Silica dust, often referred to as quartz, is a very common mineral. It is found in many materials common on construction sites, including soil, sand, concrete, masonry, rock, granite, and landscaping materials.
The dust created by cutting, grinding, drilling or otherwise disturbing these materials can contain crystalline silica particles.
These dust particles are very small. You cannot see them. This reparable silica dust causes lung disease and lung cancer. It only takes a very small amount of airborne silica dust to create a health hazard.
HAZARDS OF SILICA DUST
Crystalline silica is a common mineral in the earth’s crust, and is found in many types of rock including sand, quartz, and granite. Silica is present in both work and non-work environments, and exposure to crystalline silica dust has long been known to cause a disease called silicosis. When you inhale crystalline silica the lung tissue reacts by developing fibrous tissue around trapped silica particles. This condition of the lung is called silicosis.
Due to the extensive use of concrete and masonry products in buildings today, construction workers have a potential exposure to crystalline silica. Operations such as dumping of rock, jack hammering, abrasive blasting, sawing, drilling or demolition of concrete and masonry structures are some of the activities that could produce this exposure.
Silica sand or other substances containing more than 1% crystalline silica should never be used as abrasive blasting materials. Where silica exceeds 1% of the content, less hazardous materials should be substituted. In addition, always follow safe work practices when there is possible exposure to silica dust.
What are the symptoms of silicosis?
Silicosis is classified into three types: chronic/classic, accelerated, and acute. Chronic/classic silicosis, the most common, occurs after 15–20 years of moderate to low exposures to repairable crystalline silica.
Symptoms associated with chronic silicosis may or may not be obvious; therefore, workers need to have a chest x-ray to determine if there is lung damage. As the disease progresses, the worker may experience shortness of breath upon exercising and have clinical signs of poor oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange. In the later stages, the worker may experience fatigue, extreme shortness of breath, chest pain, or respiratory failure. Accelerated silicosis can occur after 5–10 years of high exposures to reparable crystalline silica. Symptoms include severe shortness of breath, weakness, and weight loss. The onset of symptoms takes longer than in acute silicosis.
Acute silicosis occurs after a few months or as long as 2 years following exposures to extremely high concentrations of repairable crystalline silica. Symptoms of acute silicosis include severe disabling shortness of breath, weakness, and weight loss, which often leads to death.
Where are general industry employees exposed to crystalline silica dust?
The most severe exposures to crystalline silica result from abrasive blasting, which is done to clean and smooth irregularities from molds, jewelry, and foundry castings, finish tombstones, etch or frost glass, or remove paint, oils, rust, or dirt form objects needing to be repainted or treated. Other exposures to silica dust occur in cement and brick manufacturing, asphalt pavement manufacturing, china and ceramic manufacturing and the tool and die, steel and foundry industries.
Crystalline silica is used in manufacturing, household abrasives, adhesives, paints, soaps, and glass. Additionally, crystalline silica exposures occur in the maintenance, repair and replacement of refractory brick furnace linings. In the maritime industry, shipyard employees are exposed to silica primarily in abrasive blasting operations to remove paint and clean and prepare steel hulls, bulkheads, decks, and tanks for paints and coatings.
What can employers/employees do to protect against exposures to crystalline silica?
■ Replace crystalline silica materials with safer substitutes, whenever possible.
■ Provide engineering or administrative controls, where feasible, such as local exhaust ventilation, and blasting cabinets. Where necessary to reduce exposures below the PEL, use protective equipment or other protective measures.
■ Use all available work practices to control dust exposures, such as water sprays.
■ Wear only a N95 NIOSH certified respirator, if respirator protection is required. Do not alter the respirator. Do not wear a tight-fitting respirator with a beard or mustache that prevents a good seal between the respirator and the face.
■ Wear only a Type CE abrasive-blast supplied-air respirator for abrasive blasting.
■ Wear disposable or washable work clothes and shower if facilities are available. Vacuum the dust from your clothes or change into clean clothing before leaving the work site.
■ Participate in training, exposure monitoring, and health screening and surveillance programs to monitor any adverse health effects caused by crystalline silica exposures.
■ Be aware of the operations and job tasks creating crystalline silica exposures in your workplace environment and know how to protect yourself.
■ Be aware of the health hazards related to exposures to crystalline silica. Smoking adds to the lung damage caused by silica exposures.
■ Do not eat, drink, smoke, or apply cosmetics in areas where crystalline silica dust is present. Wash your hands and face outside of dusty areas before performing any of these activities.
■ Remember: If it’s silica, it’s not just dust.