What is Silica Dust: 5 Things You Need to Know

By now, all construction companies should be in compliance with new regulations regarding crystalline silica dust on construction sites. But, what is silica dust? Here are 5 things you need to know:

1. Silica is Everywhere

Oxygen and silicon are the two most prevalent elements in the earth’s core. They combine to create quartz and other forms of crystalline silica. Silica has a variety of important uses in several industries. It is used to prevent powdery foods from caking and beverages from becoming cloudy or foamy. Silica is also used in baking, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and other applications. While silica dust can be useful, when tiny particles – a fraction the size of a grain of sand – become airborne, they can be inhaled and drawn into mucous membranes and lungs.

2. Many Construction Materials Contain Silica

Crystalline silica is a component of many construction materials including stone, concrete, cement, drywall, ceramic and brick. It becomes a problem when cutting, grinding, drilling, sand blasting or other routine construction activities involving these products creates respirable crystalline silica dust. The operator of the grinder, drill, saw or other tool, as well as coworkers and bystanders within a wide radius of the work being performed, will be exposed to the particles.

3. Silica Causes Lung Disease

Nearly microscopic, crystalline silica dust is abrasive and can scrape and tear the lining of nasal and respiratory passages. This causes scar tissue to form, reducing the lungs’ capacity to gather oxygen. In severe cases this may result in silicosis, an incurable, sometimes fatal, disease. The lesions on the lungs the dust causes also makes sufferers more susceptible to tuberculosis, kidney disease and lung cancer. Smoking compounds the risk.

4. OSHA Has Taken Strong Action

Despite a 50-year history of working to control potential hazards presented by silica dust, OSHA only over the last several years has developed consistent, rigid rules to protect workers. These construction regulations include written exposure-control plans, training regimens, and housekeeping. Since the nature of construction and other “blue collar” industries create large volumes of silica dust, OSHA regulations concentrate on collecting and containing it before it can be inhaled. Hence the need for dust shrouds and water suppression.

5. Equipment can Mitigate Exposure

Respirators, wet-cutting, and tools fitted with vacuum removal systems can keep crystalline silica dust from reaching OSHA’s 50 micrograms per cubic foot of air limit. Vacuum removal is the most effective method of controlling silica dust created by power tools. While our vacuums equipped with HEPA filters remove 99.99% of the dust, CS Unitec’s standard vacuums are 99.93% efficient. Both can be fitted to tool shrouds placing the vacuum hose adjacent to the tool’s bit or blade, collecting the dust before it has a chance to disperse into the air.

While it is each company’s responsibility to follow all OSHA, state and local safety regulations, CS Unitec is dedicated to helping construction companies maintain productive work environments. Get silica dust compliant with a range of CS Unitec tools and accessories. Contact us or call us at 800-700-5919 to request a quote or product specifications.
For more information about OSHA Silica Dust Regulations Compliance, take a look at our whitepaper which covers the topic deeply.