Silica Dust – What You Should Know?

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What Everyone Needs to Know about Silica Dust?

Silica dust comes from crystalline quartz or non-crystalline items, sand and quartz are the most common forms, and it is hazardous to those who breath the dust in on a regular basis.  Those who are affected the most are those who quarry the materials, construction workers, and farmers.  Anyone that continuously breathes in silica dust will find themselves having breathing problems that can eventually turn into silicosis, which is a serious disease that can cause scarring on the lungs.
Most of the time, silica is not harmful to people, unless it is disturbed, and dust is created.  The most common ways to disturb silica is to cut, chip away, drill, grind, or blast materials that contain silica.  Unfortunately, there are many materials that are used during construction that contain silica, and they include the following:

  • Tiles
  • Plaster
  • Asphalt
  • Cement
  • Bricks
  • Grout
  • Drywall
  • Concrete
  • Mortar
  • Rocks
  • Roofing tiles and pavers
  • Sand
  • Stones
  • Stucco
  • Terrazzo
  • Soil

It never takes that much silica dust to create a hazardous setting and currently OSHA has set requirements of the permissible exposure level at or below 50 µg/m3.  This exposure level is measured over an eight-hour day, which means that employers have had to utilize engineering controls to limit an employee’s exposure.  This means that every employer needs to have a written exposure control plan and train each one of their employees on the risks of silica dust and what the requirements are to prevent them from being over-exposed.
Anyone that works around silica dust should wear proper gear to prevent them from inhaling any of the dust.  Unfortunately, there isn’t anything deemed reliably safe for silica dust, which is why air monitoring needs to be done continuously when a person believes that they will be exposed to it.
A battery-operated vacuum can be worn on a person’s collar to collect samples of the air where the person is working.  The results of the air quality will be shown immediately, which means everyone will know how much silica dust is around them.  Since studies have shown that approximately nine million micrograms of silica dust can be released into the air while making one cut on a paver, it is safe to say that anyone nearby will be affected.
There are new power tools arriving on the market which claim to collect the silica dust and any other harmful dust particles as they are cutting.  These power tools can work on concrete, hardscape, tiles, and masonry, and while they are new, they show some promise.
Not everyone can completely stay away from silica dust, as is evident by all the workers that it affects.  However, the people that are exposed can find ways to limit their exposure.  This can be completed by limiting the amount of time they are near the silica dust within the job site.  One to three hours may be an acceptable time to keep everyone under the guideline range, as long as the remainder of the employees’ work day is completed within a clean air environment.
As mentioned above, breathing problems are the result of breathing in any amount of silica dust, even in small doses.  While silicosis is what seems to be the worst since it is fatal, lung cancer, tuberculosis, and COPD, which is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, isn’t much better.
There are three forms of silicosis and they are simple chronic silicosis, accelerated silicosis, and acute silicosis.  Simple chronic silicosis is the result from long-term exposure to small amounts of silica dust.  When stating long-term, it is normally over a period of an average of twenty years.  Anyone who has this form of silicosis will find themselves experiencing breathlessness throughout their days.
Accelerated silicosis patients are exposed to higher levels of silica over shorter periods of time and the symptoms progress much faster.  The exposure for this type usually occurs over a period of time of between five and fifteen years.
Acute silicosis is the worst, because people are exposed to large amounts of the silica dust for a very short period of time.  Once this occurs, people will experience inflamed lungs and those lungs could fill with fluid.  The oxygen levels within their blood will also be low.
The goal is to utilize the newest in technology and keep within the latest OSHA guidelines of exposure, so that every worker that is exposed to silica dust will not need to worry about finding out that they have some deadly disease in the future.
Hopefully in the future, no one will need to worry about silica dust or the effects of it on their health.