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PROPERTY & CASUALTY
NOV 02, 2018
Breathe Easy. Protect Yourself from Respirable Silica.
Though it’s inert in everyday contexts, crystalline silica is harmful to health when it is crushed, ground, drilled, or used in other industrial processes. During these processes, dust particles are produced, and some of the very fine particles are known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS).
To put this in perspective, RCS particles are a tenth of the size of table salt particles. If these tiny particles are inhaled on a regular basis, there is a potential risk for silicosis — which can later lead to lung cancer.
It’s important to recognize that harmful levels of RCS are only reached in the direct vicinity of industrial processes. Beyond a 30-foot radius, RCS disperses rapidly, reducing concentration to harmless levels.
Workers who use handheld masonry saws to cut materials such as concrete and brick are at the highest risk for deep lung penetration. Other sources of exposure include —
Sandblasting for surface preparation
Crushing/drilling rock and concrete
Building/road construction and repair
Mining, tunneling and demolition work
Cement and asphalt pavement manufacturing
Stop the risk
Knowing there is a hazard of silica at your work is only the first step to protecting against lung cancer. All workers breathing crystalline silica dust should have a medical examination that includes an x-ray of the chest and lungs.
Thereafter, immediate action should be taken to reduce or eliminate the exposure. Some options for mitigating the risk include —
Use all available engineering controls such as blasting cabinets and local exhaust ventilation
Avoid using compressed air for cleaning surfaces
Use water sprays and wet methods for cutting, chipping, drilling, sawing, grinding, etc.
Substitute non-crystalline silica blasting material
Use respirators approved for protection against silica
Do not eat, drink or smoke near crystalline silica dust
Wash hands and face before eating, drinking or smoking away from exposure area
Whichever method you choose, make sure you’re in accordance with the Occupation Safety & Health Administration’s
new crystalline silica rule
Continue to monitor the situation
Even after the risk has been contained, workers should regularly monitor their health and receive a yearly x-ray of their chest and lungs. Some of the symptoms of silicosis include —
Shortness of breath; possible fever
Fatigue; loss of appetite
Chest pain; dry, nonproductive cough
Respiratory failure, which may eventually lead to death
Those experiencing any of these symptoms for an extended period of time should seek medical attention immediately.