How to Reduce Silica Exposure

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Consider silica substitutes.,
Wear an approved respirator.,
Isolate and ventilate dust.,
Don’t take the dust with you.,
Take job-specific protective measures.,
Identify crystalline silica.,
Learn about silicosis and other health risks.,
Determine your likelihood of exposure.,
Know and follow exposure limits.,
Ask your doctor about Silica Exposure Monitoring.

Most harmful exposure to inhaled silica comes from chipping, grinding, cutting, cleaning, or otherwise disrupting materials like concrete or glass that contain silica. Abrasive blasting (“sandblasting”) to remove paint, rust, etc. is perhaps the most likely source, as the blasting material itself is often primarily silica.When possible, consider using materials that don’t contain silica for industrial applications. For instance, there are numerous sandblasting material options that don’t contain any sand (which is primarily silica).
Often, however, the very nature of a job or task requires the creation of silica dust, so be prepared to take other measures to reduce exposure.;
, Silica dust can only harm you if you breathe it in. The use of respirators intended to filter out silica dust will substantially reduce the risk of negative health consequences. The use of such respirators is usually required by law and safety codes as well, when engaged in an occupation in which silica dust exposure is likely.If you are going to be exposed to airborne silica at concentrations of 50 micrograms per cubic meter, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a half-face particulate respirator with a filter rating of N95 or better (the 95 indicates that the filter was able remove at least 95% of the most-penetrating particles during testing).For higher concentrations of silica particles, you will need a powered or supplied air respirator.Make sure you choose a respirator that is intended to block out silica dust, and that you wear it regularly and properly. The mask needs to create a seal over your mouth and nose., The less silica dust you create or leave floating around in your vicinity, the less you are likely to inhale. Therefore, proper dust reduction and ventilation procedures are also straightforward ways of reducing silica exposure.If, for instance, your job involves cutting concrete blocks, the use of a wet saw (which dampens potential silica dust) and a vacuum dust collector (which sucks up and isolates dust before it becomes airborne) will significantly reduce the amount of silica available to be inhaled.In fact, studies indicate that the use of wet saws and exhaust ventilators reduce silica concentration in the surrounding air by 96%., When engaged in activities that produce silica dust, you should wear disposable work suits or gear that can be removed on site and washed. Likewise, washing and showering facilities should be available nearby so you can wash away silica particles on your body or in your hair.You also should not eat or expose food to the area in which the dust is present. Clean up thoroughly before eating off-site.

, The best health and safety practices in regards to silica exposure will vary by the nature of the work being done. Workers in the “fracking” industry will have different needs than glass engravers or tombstone etchers. Consult the recommendations and regulations of your workplace health and safety authority (on the federal level in the U.S., OSHA) for guidance.This construction industry website contains a number of useful videos regarding silica safety in a range of occupations and tasks.
Current proposed OSHA regulations (as of 2016) recommend limiting exposure to no more than 50 micrograms per cubic meter over the course of an eight hour shift., In basic terms, silica is the main component of sand, and sand is present in various man-made masonry and concrete products, as well as glass. Silica is also a building block for many types of stone (such as granite) and is abundant in a wide range of soils. Essentially, silica is everywhere around us.Crystalline silica can occur in three forms, with quartz as by far the most common of the three. The other two are cristobalite and tridymite. All three are equally prone to becoming respirable and are equally dangerous if inhaled in large or recurring quantities.

, As you might expect from inhaling bits of grit over long periods of time, silica deposits end up in the lungs and create scarring. Such scarring creates a condition known as silicosis, which can cause significant breathing difficulties and sometimes even death. There is no cure and limited treatment options for silicosis.Silica dust is also a known carcinogen, and smokers are even more likely to develop lung cancer if they also have silica deposits in their lungs. Kidney damage and other health problems can also sometimes occur due to prolonged silica inhalation.

, If you are regularly engaged in utilizing silica (sand) in abrasive blasting, whether to clean fine jewelry or remove peeling house paint, you are likely to be exposed to high concentrations of silica dust on a daily basis. Similarly, if your work involves cutting, grinding, breaking up, or etching materials rich in silica — such as concrete, granite, or glass — you are also at an elevated risk for exposure.Silica dust inhalation must usually occur consistently over a lengthy period of time to become a health hazard, however. Chronic silicosis, the most common form of the disease, occurs after 15-20 years of moderate exposure. Accelerated silicosis occurs after 5-10 years of high exposure. In rare cases, acute silicosis can occur after two years or less of extreme exposure to silica dust. All of these forms of silicosis are equally dangerous.

, The dangers of silica inhalation have been known for decades, and there have been efforts to reduce allowable exposure limits in the U.S. since the 1970s. In early 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed reducing the limit of allowed exposure to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air for eight hours, for all types of work. The current limits vary by job type and range from 100 to 250 on the same scale.If you are in charge of your work conditions, be vigilant in making sure you remain within the current silica dust exposure limits and follow all safety protocols. Do so not only to prevent running afoul of OSHA inspectors, but more importantly to safeguard the health of your workers and yourself. If you are not in charge of your work conditions, do your part to make sure the limits and regulations are known and being followed. Report unsafe work conditions to government regulators if necessary.

, If you are regularly exposed to large quantities of silica, your doctor may recommend a series of tests, including chest x-rays and lung spirometry, to monitor your exposure levels. Give your doctor as much information as possible about the amount, duration, and nature of your exposure. This information will help your doctor decide if these tests are appropriate for you.Keep in mind that frequent exposure to x-rays may have harmful effects, so discuss the benefits and risks of exposure monitoring with your doctor.

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