Business owners must take responsibility for their employees’ health. Silica dust is an invisible factor that can cause significant health risks, so it’s important to make sure you are tackling the issue. Let’s take a look at what silica dust is and what harm it causes.
Silica is a natural substance found in most rocks, sand and clay. For example, sandstone contains more than 70 % silica, whereas granite might contain 15 - 30 %. Silica is also found in construction materials such as bricks, tiles, concrete and mortar. This is why many companies in manufacturing, construction and logistics struggle with silica dust.
Because Silica dust is so fine, it’s hard to see and doesn’t necessarily damage equipment. As a result, it can be easy to neglect silica dust removal. However, prolonged exposure to silica dust can cause very serious health risks as it can get deep into the lungs of your employees. Silica dust is, primarily, a health and safety issue. Sick employees have to take sick leave, which affects productivity levels and the company’s bottom line.
Silicosis is a lung disease caused by a build-up of respirable silica dust particles in the lung. This build up causes an inflammatory reaction that leads to lung damage, scarring and, in some cases, disability or even death.
More than 100 studies conducted to date have shown that there is strong and consistent evidence that silica dust exposure increases lung cancer risk. According to the World Heath Organisation, lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death worldwide.
Silica dust exposure can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and impaired lung function, with affected workers frequently diagnosed with work-related emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
According to the US regulator OSHA: “There is also suggestive evidence that inhalation of silica dust can increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. In fact, an autoimmune mechanism has been postulated for some silica-associated renal disease.”
It is crucial that all business owners take responsibility for the health and safety of their workers. Silica dust exposure is particularly important as the risks are so severe.
Using water and wet working methods can also help to keep silica dust out of the air, as the dust can stick to wet surfaces.
It’s also important to ensure that equipment and affected work areas are frequently cleaned with a water hose, or vacuum cleaning system with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to protect nearby workers from dust exposure. However, you must not dry sweep or use compressed air to blow off dust, as this can spread silica dust further into the air.