Crystalline silica is one of the most common elements on the planet, just behind oxygen. About 2.3 million workers are exposed to it in their workplace. It’s about 100 times smaller than sand and can be found on construction sites in building materials such as concrete, block, stone, sand, and mortar.
Crystalline silica is one of the most common minerals found worldwide in the earth’s crust. It is frequently used in many industrial processes such as mining, quarrying and stone-cutting. Breathing air contaminated with crystalline silica particles can cause serious respiratory and lung diseases.
OSHA estimates some two million construction employees are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in more than 600,000 workplaces across the country. To comply, companies need to follow multiple steps that aren’t always as easy as they might seem.
In the 1960s cartoon The Flintstones, Stone Age man Fred Flintstone worked in a quarry while sitting in the open booth of a rock-crusher machine. Presumably, the animators based Fred’s booth on the open designs typical of the 1960s. If they had created it in the 2000s, however, Fred’s booth would have looked vastly different, notwithstanding the fact that his booth was atop a brontosaurus.
When I learned about the dangers of silica dust in medical school in the 1970s, at the beginning of my career in occupational medicine, I thought silica dust was only of historical interest, or a hazard for just a few especially vulnerable workers with unscrupulous employers.
Scientists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have developed a novel technique that makes it possible to measure silica dust quickly and easily at the mine site. Silica dust exposure can causes silicosis, an irreversible, but preventable, occupational lung disease.