“Controlling Silica Exposures in Construction,” a guidance document recently published by OSHA addresses the control of worker exposure to dust containing crystalline silica, known to cause the lung disease silicosis.
The publication, intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace, includes methods for controlling silica such as wet cutting during construction operations. Wet cutting controls silica dust generated when using hand-held saws, grinders and jackhammers. Wetting materials at the point of impact makes the dust particles heavier and more likely to stick to each other, reducing the chance of dust becoming airborne.
Vacuum dust collection systems also effectively control silica by drawing dust particles away from the worker's breathing zone and depositing them into a filtered dust collection chamber.
"Workers in the construction trades not only suffer serious injuries and illnesses resulting from unsafe equipment but also from inhaling harmful dusts," said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. "Providing guidance for reducing potentially fatal hazards associated with occupational exposure to silica dust is one of this agency's priorities."
Employers should conduct periodic monitoring of silica exposure by testing air samples at the construction site to determine if the level of silica in the air exceeds the permissible exposure limit (PEL) outlined in the construction PEL standard. As one of OSHA's areas of emphasis, the agency has developed standards for silica to assure work practice controls are effective.