What Does Silica Mean?
Silica dust is composed of minute particles that can become airborne while working with materials containing crystalline silica.
Crystalline silica is found in a number of materials that are used in construction, such as stone, concrete, cement, drywall, and ceramic. When these materials are subject to cutting, grinding, polishing, drilling, or sandblasting, fine particles of the silica are released into the air.
Repeat or continuous inhalation of this silica dust can result in severe health issues, including lung disease and silicosis.
Safeopedia Explains Silica
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica in the workplace.
Some industries where workers are at risk of exposure to silica dust include:
- General construction
- Ready-mix concrete production
- Glass manufacturing
- Dental laboratories
- Oil and gas
The processes used in these industries that can result in exposure to silica dust include:
- Concrete cutting, coring, and finishing
- Granite and marble cutting
- Stone crushing
- Road construction and maintenance
- Diamond, seismic, or shot hole drilling
- Clay digging and processing
Construction workers, miners, and workers in oil and gas operations have the highest level of silica exposure and have, as such, the greatest risk of developing diseases and medical conditions associated with the inhalation of silica dust.
Health Hazards Associated with Silica Dust Exposure
When inhaled, minute silica dust particles can reach the lower respiratory tract and alveolar spaces. There, they interact with lung tissue resulting in the development of fibrotic nodules and scarring around the trapped silica particles. This can result in silicosis, a progressive, irreversible, and incurable fibrotic lung disease caused by prolonged silica dust inhalation.
In addition to silicosis, prolonged exposure to silica dust can cause:
Mitigating Silica Dust Exposure
OSHA has developed regulations to protect workers from the harmful effects of crystalline silica, which cover written exposure control plans, training regimens, and housekeeping procedures. The primary aim of these regulations is to collect and contain silica dust before it can be inhaled, which can be achieved with techniques such as dust shrouds and water suppression. Respirators, tools with vacuum removal systems, and wet-cutting can also help reduce exposure to silica dust.