Crystalline silica dust is an invisible threat to your employees' health. As a business owner, it's up to you to ensure these harmful particles are eliminated before they reach your workers' lungs. Let’s take a look at what silica dust is and why it can be so harmful.
Silica is a substance naturally found in most rocks, sand, and clay. Some types of rocks contain more silica than others; for example, sandstone is more than 70% silica, but granite only ranges between 15% - 30%. Many construction materials, like bricks, tiles, concrete and mortar, also contain silica, which is why businesses in the manufacturing, construction, and logistics industries are affected by silica dust.
Silica dust may be hard to see - unlike other forms of dust, it doesn't build up or damage equipment. This may lead some business owners to put off silica dust removal, but this could be a dangerous mistake. If your staff members are breathing in silica dust over a prolonged period of time, it can build up in their lungs and lead to serious health risks. On top of that, silica dust is a threat to your bottom line. Not only will employees require more sick leave, but you'll also be at risk of violating OSHA standards.
The build-up of respirable crystalline silica dust particles in the lungs can lead to a dangerous illness known as silicosis. This condition is characterized by inflamed lungs, which can cause scarring and permanent disability. In some cases, silicosis may even be fatal.
Respirable crystalline silica dust is associated with a number of illnesses that impair lung function, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Workers breathing in silica dust are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis or emphysema.
From the OSHA website: “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.”
The health and safety of your employees is your top priority. So what can you do to reduce the dangers of respirable silica dust?
You can also use water to your advantage; wet working methods will help keep silica dust out of the air, as it will become stuck to wet surfaces.
Regularly cleaning equipment and work areas is one of the best ways to manage silica dust. However, there are specific ways you must clean, or else you could make the problem worse. Dry sweeping or using compressed air to blow away silica dust will spread it further into the air. Instead, use a water hose or vacuum cleaning system with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which will protect anyone working nearby from silica dust exposure.