The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, passed silica dust exposure regulations in 2016, affecting approximately 2.3 million American workers, many in the construction industry. Preventing your crew from breathing silica dust is about more than avoiding steep financial penalties—dust safety tips also help keep your team healthy and productive on the jobsite for the long term.
Although concrete dust inhalation is a common term to describe exposure, crystalline silica is a known carcinogen present in many construction materials beyond just concrete. Learn the dangers of inhaling silica dust, which materials contain silica, and four tips to minimize jobsite risks to protect your crew and business.
What happens if I breathe in crystalline silica?
Long-term silica dust inhalation may increase the risk for several diseases and health conditions. These diseases range from mild to severe, with some being fatal illnesses. They include:
- Chronic renal failure
- Lung cancer
- Autoimmune diseases
Taking the appropriate dust safety precautions is the key method to reduce risk for all of the diseases associated with silica dust inhalation.
What can I do to minimize the dangers of silica dust inhalation?
The first step to reducing the amount of silica dust in the air is to follow OSHA’s specific safety and health regulations regarding crystalline silica, which vary depending on the equipment being used and the type of work being done. Additional silica dust safety best practices include:
Be aware of material containing silica.
Knowing which materials contain silica will help you avoid inhaling the dust when working with it. Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in quartz. Products made from quartz that contain silica include:
Glass and ceramic material
Certain types of paint and coatings
Always wear the appropriate protective apparel.
Providing workers with the right personal protective equipment and apparel is a key part of preventing exposure to silica dust. Respiratory masks are a primary piece of safety equipment required by OSHA for work involving materials containing silica to minimize breathing in dust particles. Other suggested protective apparel includes:
Respirator masks are essential in preventing silica dust exposure
After the work is done, wash or dispose of the used protective equipment to prevent silica dust particles from spreading.
Pay attention to the amount of time spent working around silica dust.
The more time you spend in areas where silica dust levels are high, the more you are exposing your lungs to particles that can cause silicosis and the other diseases listed above.
The OSHA dust extraction equipment requirements vary based on the length of the work shift. A four-hour work shift involving working with materials containing silica dust may have different requirements than an eight-hour shift. For this reason, it is important to monitor closely the time each worker is exposed to silica.
Pro tip: Do not allow your crew to consume food or beverages in areas with high silica dust levels. Make sure that breaks are taken away from areas where work is being conducted to limit additional exposure.
Communicate the hazards to your crew.
Communication is a critical part of preventing most hazards on the jobsite, including silica dust inhalation. Make sure your crew knows of the health risks associated with silica dust, which materials contain silica, and what type of work is more likely to create a risk of exposure. Developing a hazard communication plan and informing your crew of the dangers of dust inhalation could save someone’s life.
Pro tip: Hang the appropriate safety markers and signage to indicate areas in which silica dangers are present, and permit access only to workers who are trained on silica dust safety.