Silica dust is common in worksites, can scar the lungs and cause cancer. Symptoms sometimes don’t appear for 10 years.
The source of silica dust is the element silicon, which is common in quartz and other rocks. The rocks themselves aren’t a danger, but when crunched into dust, scarred lungs and cancer can result from silicosis.
Workers sandblasting, tunneling, or using concrete or mortar are at risk.
Silicosis may take up to 10 years to show symptoms of chronic coughing and other breathing issues. There is no cure.
Protect workers from silica dust with industrial hygiene planning, appropriate PPE, and by using other materials, if available.
Scroll to the bottom to see an OSHA video on silica dust dangers.
intro music and effects
Dan Clark: DUST IN THE WIND isn’t just a song from the 70s. It’s a present threat to worker safety. I’m talking about silica dust.
Hello, I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief. This is where we talk about health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites.
Improve industrial hygiene and keep your crews safe. Learn about the hazards of silica dust. Why is silicate dust dangerous compared to other dust? Silica dust comes from silicon—quartz, mica, feldspar and other rocks. These rocks are not a danger until they’re ground into dust and create silica. This common dust can scar the lungs and cause cancer, but the symptoms sometimes don’t appear for as long as 10 years. The damage slowly sneaks up, long after a worker has left the dusty worksite. Heavy exposure can cause acute and chronic symptoms to appear even faster.
The condition it creates is called silicosis, and there’s no known cure. Exposed workers end up developing coughing, hampered breathing, chest pains, fatigue and fever.
Why is silica dust overlooked? A few reasons:
- The impact on health isn’t felt right away.
- It looks like most other dust at a worksite.
- Exposure isn’t regulated in most states, although OSHA is working to change that and has begun a program to educate people about the problem.
- Also, it’s not a combustible dust which gets much more attention because of the dangers of possible explosions.
What type of work has the largest concentrations of silica dust?
1. Working with building materials that contain silica, like stone, brick and concrete. Crushing, drilling and cutting these things spews off a fog of silica dust.
3. Tunnel building where the Earth is massively disturbed.
4. Moving or mixing powders, such as concrete and mortar.
What can workplaces do to improve industrial hygiene and protect employees?
1. Make a plan before beginning a job that notes which materials could expose people to silica dust.
2. Pick PPE—the right PPE—which could include face masks or respirators, depending on the amount of dust present.
3. Opt for materials less likely to create silica dust: crushed glass, instead of gravel (where available and appropriate) and precut stone, such as countertops so workers don’t need to cut the materials on-site.
That is all for this episode. Come back for more tips and techniques on how to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. This is Dan Clark and this is The Safety Brief, sponsored by Creative Safety Supply. See the website at creativesafetysupply.com