Silica Dust Exposure – How To Protect Yourself

It’s no secret that silica dust exposure is dangerous. 

In fact, silica dust is so dangerous to your health that the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is reviewing its exposure limits. 

OSHA and NIOSH currently (March 2022) have a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of just 50 micrograms of silica dust per cubic metre of air. 

Averaged over an 8-hour workday.

Current OSHA permissible exposure limit for silica dust exposure is 50 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

And it looks highly likely they’ll HALVE it to just 25 micrograms of silica dust per cubic metre of air.

So if you’re already out of compliance for silica dust exposure, you’re likely to be waaay out when this change happens.

Which means it’s not just your workers being in harm’s way medically…

Your business is in harm’s way too. 

Safety inspections, court cases, compensation claims for silica dust exposure – and the damage it causes – are a very real threat.

And burying your head in the sand (or the silica dust) isn’t going to help… 

You might have some understanding of the risk, but it’s highly likely you’re still being exposed to levels of silica dust exposure that can cause serious health problems.

A lot of the time it’s due to a lack of adequate PPE, lack of proactive monitoring, old working practices and poor oversight.

All of which you can easily fix.

So that you can protect yourself, your business and your workers from these dangers, it’s important to know what precautions you must take to keep you all safe.

What is silica dust – and why is it dangerous?

Silica dust is a dangerous substance to people just like you. It causes a variety of health problems in workers who are exposed to it. 

Silica dust is made up of very small, sharp-edged particles of crystalline silica. 

You’ll find it in all sorts of materials, including sand, concrete, and stone. In particular it’s in the engineered stone so many of us are working with. 

When you breathe it in, silica dust can cause irritation and inflammation in the lungs. 

This can lead to chronic bronchitis, silicosis, and even lung cancer. 

To protect your workers from these dangers, you must provide adequate safety equipment – and make sure the guys use it.

The kit is no good just sitting in a cupboard somewhere – the guys have got to use it. 

What are the health risks associated with silica dust exposure?

There are a number of health risks associated with silica dust exposure, including:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Silicosis
  • Lung cancer

Crystalline silica dust can cause irritation at any stage of the breathing process. 

Silica dust is so fine it doesn’t just stop in your nose and throat. It penetrates so deep into your lungs that it lodges itself right where the basic breathing function takes place. 

Then it causes scarring, which leads to permanent – and irreversible – lung damage.

But the worst part is that the symptoms and the damage often don’t show up until years after exposure. 

You might already be developing the effects from previous exposure right now, and not know about it for years.

This is why it is so important to be aware of these risks, and why it is so incredibly important to start monitoring and controlling your exposure now.

How can I protect myself from silica dust exposure?

Although it is up to you as the employer to ensure your workers are using their safety equipment, there are a number of precautions craftsmen can take in order to minimise their own exposure to silica dust:

1. Wear a proper protective face mask

This one is pretty obvious – but many guys neglect to even use a proper protective dust mask, instead choosing the minimum level of PPE, or worse – none at all.

Face masks fitted with a respirator cartridge provide good protection against short-term exposure to silica dust… But they must be replaced regularly. And your crew must remember to wear them!

2. Wear goggles or a face shield

You should wear goggles in order to protect your eyes from any contact with dust. Like a face mask, your goggles should be worn as part of your PPE and must be replaced regularly.

3. Use wet methods when cutting and polishing

You’re using power tools to cut or process materials containing silica dust, so use tools with an integrated, constant stream of water to cut and polish instead of doing it dry. Your bigger machinery has got it for a reason, and it’s not just to keep the blades cool. It’s a lot quieter, faster and less dusty too. But it does still require the use of adequate safety equipment. And remember – it doesn’t get rid of the dust; it just suppresses it by dropping it to the floor.

4. Use an extraction system to control crystalline silica dust exposure

Because you’ll still have stations where you’re working by hand, use a commercially available dust shroud and extraction system for each handheld tool. If you can, go further – installing a good-quality ventilation system that can suck away any excess dust and fumes is a great idea (albeit one with a price tag initially). Waterfall extractors like the MB units from Turrini (in the US through Turrini USA and the UK through Turrini UK) are powerful, reliable and quality units for exactly this purpose.

5. Be aware of the dangers of silica dust exposure

You really should be proactively monitoring your crews to ensure that you’re not exposing them or you to excessive levels of silica dust. The very best way to do this is to use a reliable dust monitoring device that can give you top-notch data to work with. Use a reliable monitoring device like the XD One from Trolex for general dust levels, or the upcoming Air XS crystalline silica monitor, also from Trolex. Both are easy to use and provide detailed, real-time information about any dangerous levels of exposure.

[For XD Ones in the US, see hereFor the UK see here.]

Conclusion

Silica dust exposure can cause long-term health problems for you and your crew. Silica dust is a dangerous material. 

If you’re an employer, you must provide adequate safety equipment to your employees and enforce its use. And if you’re a stone worker you should be using it!

Everyone should wear masks, goggles, and other PPE as necessary to protect themselves from silica dust exposure. There are a number of ways to reduce your exposure, including using wet methods, actively and reliably monitoring your dust levels and being alert to exposure limits, and using an extraction system. 

By being aware of the dangers of silica dust and taking the necessary precautions, you can protect yourself, your team and your business from its harmful effects.




For more information on how to protect yourself from silica dust exposure, get in touch with the Stone Industry Group team by emailing simon@sig.ltd, or calling +44 (0)1283 617888.

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