Crystalline silica is found in soil, sand, granite and many other types of minerals. Quartz is the most common form. When crystalline silica is cut, drilled or grinded, it becomes respiratory-sized particles, which pose a serious health risk to employees, as you will see below.
It is important to note that not only do silica risks apply to those in high-risk jobs like blasting, stone cutting, quarry work or tunneling, but even workers in dental laboratories can be exposed to silica dust.
Very severe silica dust exposure, however, typically occurs during the following construction activities, including abrasive sandblasting to remove paint and rust, jack hammering, rock well drilling, concrete mixing and concrete drilling, to name just a few. Sandblasting in other industries, such as in smoothing irregularities from jewelry or in cement or brick manufacturing, also expose workers to high levels of silica dust.
What Are the Risks of Silica Dust?
Crystalline silica is classified as a human lung carcinogen, and exposure can result in serious diseases and death when silica dust is inhaled. Here is a look at the risks that come from breathing in silica dust:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Silicosis (a disabling and potentially fatal lung disease—acute silicosis can occur in as little as a few months after exposure to high amounts of silica dust)
- Kidney disease (including nephritis and end-state renal disease)
- Lung cancer
How to Protect Yourself from Silica Dust
Both employers and employees need to take an active role when it comes to protecting themselves from the high risk of silica dust. First and foremost, employees and employers should be highly knowledgeable on the topic and know how to protect themseles (for example, smoking creates even more lung damage). Next, crystalline silica should always be replaced with safer materials whenever that’s a possibility.
Beyond this, employees/employers should also:
- Make use of local exhaust ventilation and blasting cabinets wherever possible
- Make use of all protective equipment and practices that reduce exposure, such as water sprays
- Wear disposable or washable work clothes, shower after exposure at the facility if possible, and change into clean clothing as soon as possible
- Do not eat, drink or smoke in areas where crystalline silica is around
- Take an active role in your health; for example, make use of any health screening programs that monitor health effects of exposure