In the United States alone, millions of workers per year are exposed to a threat that many of us don’t even know about, let alone have the proper information to accurately address and prevent. In fact, silicosis is a relatively unknown condition due to the long dormancy period that usually occurs between affliction and the presentation of symptoms. Additionally, specific industrial workers are generally at a much higher risk for it. Silicosis, in short, occurs when workers breath in fine crystalline silica powder, which is then trapped in the lungs. Silica dust can then cause breathing troubles, chest pain, and even death, with the nasty additional side effect of exacerbating other lung conditions like cancer.
What Is Silica and Where Is It Found?
Silica itself is a compound constructed of one of the most abundant elements on earth, silicon. Silica makes up many of the rocks, dirt, and natural terrains we run into on a daily basis, and is completely harmless. Silica only becomes dangerous to workers, to the point of being carcinogenic (cancer-causing), when it is ground, pulverized, or cut in such a way that tiny, floating, breathable fragments are released into the air. Professionals involved in sandblasting, stone cutting, or any other activity in which silica is disturbed are at a high risk for silicosis, or a poisoning of the lungs by silica dust. Most people don’t think twice about a bit of dust stirred up when crushing rocks or moving materials about, and that’s what makes silicosis so deceptively dangerous. Additionally, silicosis can have dormancy periods ranging two decades or more, depending on the amount and rate of exposure, meaning that many workers developing symptoms today were exposed years ago. Unfortunately, a consequence of this is that little may have been done in the interim period to save others from exposure, who may start to exhibit their own signs of silicosis down the road. Let’s take a look at prevention methods for safety managers.
Preventing Silica Exposure In Your Work Place
According to SafetyToolBox.com assessment of silica:
The current OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for breathable crystalline silica (quartz) is 100 µg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) [29 CFR**1910.1000].
SafetyToolBox.com - Crystalline Silica Awareness
Simple, right? OK, maybe not. Because silica exposure often flies under the radar, it is important that you monitor air quality of all work environments for particles in the air (this can also uncover additional threats to worker health). While this exposure level may be deemed acceptable by OSHA, constant checking in day to day work would be required to ensure that exposure levels never exceed appropriate ones. For this reason, it’s generally accepted that wearing preventative personal protection equipment every day is the best way to protect against fluctuation in exposure levels, and thus silicosis itself.
Safety managers should also consider purchasing protective garments that cover a worker’s clothes while sandblasting or working in a high exposure environment. These garments can be disposable and thrown away after each work day, or washable and simply left at work each evening. The idea here is to take dust that might have stuck to workers’ clothes and then been tracked into their cars, homes, etc., and leave it at work/on the PPE. This prevents workers from further exposure after their face masks have been removed for the day.
Lastly, it might be a great idea to install safety signs or even floor signs (like these floor signs) to help communicate to employees that proper PPE is required. Communication is highly important when it comes to the safety of your employees.
- Long Term Effects of Silica Exposure
- The Top 5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Silica Exposure
- How to Use Industrial Hygiene to Improve Worker Health & Safety
- OSHA Steps Up Chemical Safety
- Bloodborne Diseases in the Workplace – Keeping Employees Safe
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