How do I choose the right respirator and mask for working with silica?
Exposure to silica dust poses a direct and serious threat to health, especially the respiratory system. Inhaling silica can result in silicosis, a disease characterized by scarring in the lungs. Depending on the severity of the condition, silicosis can significantly impair a person’s quality of life or be fatal.
According to OSHA, about 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work. Airborne, breathable silica particles are created by cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar.
Other activities that can result in exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust include:
- Manufacturing stone countertops and ceramic products
- Drilling into concrete walls
- Foundry work
- Hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
Choosing the Right Respirator for Silica Hazards
Now that we know the stakes, we can talk about the respirators that will keep workers safe from silica exposure.
When choosing a respirator to protect against silica dust, look for a NIOSH rating of N95 at a minimum. Styles include a two-strap ”dust mask” style and a full-face respirator with reusable half-masks. When fitted properly, an N95-rated filter captures about 95% of the dust particles.
P100 filters are rated even higher, capturing 99.9% of particulates. This is more protection than workers who might be occasionally exposed will need, but may be the right option for those who are exposed to airborne silica for extended periods of time.
With either type, it is important never to modify or alter the respirator from its factory state. Doing so can compromise the amount of protection the respirator offers, putting the user at unnecessary risk.
(Learn more in 6 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Respiratory Protection Device)
Other Silica Guidelines Exposure Guidelines
In addition to selecting the right type of mask, it is important to ensure that exposure levels of always remain below the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 μg/m3 as an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA) and an action level of 25 μg/m3.
OSHA also urges workers to change out of any contaminated clothes or vacuum excess dust from their clothing before leaving the worksite. This will ensure that they don’t continue to being exposed to silica after leaving work, or put their family members at risk.
Workers should also be urged not to eat or drink any items that could be coated in silica particles, like bottles that have been covered in dust from grinding or cutting.
Written by Rosemarie Graham | Marketing Manager
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