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Dangerous dust profile: What is silica dust and how to avoid it


Silica dust – A hazard in the workplace

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.

What is Silica?

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.

How is silica dust created?

Silica dust is generated from materials containing silica during many common construction tasks. These include cutting, drilling, grinding and polishing. Some of the dust created, known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS), is too fine to see with normal lighting.

Your employees are at risk – and so is your business

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.

The health risks associated with Silica dust exposure

Silicosis

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.

Lung and other cancers

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 Organization, lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death worldwide.

Other respiratory diseases

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.

Renal and autoimmune diseases

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.”

What can you do to avoid silica dust build up in your workplace

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.

Get your silica dust compliance guide to learn more

How Zehnder can help manage silica dust

Dust cannot be avoided, but it must be controlled. When it comes to silica dust, your employees’ health is at stake. In general, the more you are exposed, the greater the risk to your health. One of the easiest ways to this threat is by installing a system like Zehnder Clean Air Solutions. Zehnder Clean Air Solutions cleans the air in your facility from ceiling to floor, making sure that no dust piles up and poses a health and safety risk. Our guide explains more.

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