Managing Respirable Crystalline Silica Hazards In The Construction Industry

Crystalline silica is a common component of materials found naturally in the earth, many of which are used in building and construction such as granite, stone and sand. Silica material is not harmful on its own, but when subjected to construction operations such as blasting, drilling, sanding and shaving, it releases respirable crystalline silica into the air. These particles are 100 times smaller than sand one finds on a beach - and when inhaled, can put workers at risk of developing serious silica-related diseases such as: 
  • Silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death;
  • Lung cancer;
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and
  • Kidney disease.
Such diseases can be effectively prevented by simply by controlling exposure to silica dust. OSHA requires that employers provide the means by which those who’s work exposes them to silica dust are properly protected. Some steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of silica exposure include:
  • Using work materials that do not contain silica;
  • Preventing silica dust from entering the air by using a water system to wet the dust during sawing, grinding, blasting and other operations before it can be inhaled; 
  • Installing vacuums and/or other exhaust ventilation systems at the point of discharge to extract the dust; 
  • Wearing respirators and masks also provides protection from silica dust but should be used only when other dust controls cannot keep levels below the NIOSH recommended exposure level. 
See a comprehensive list from the CDC/NIOSH on how to protect against hazards of silica dust here: