Silica Dust Removal
Silica is the most abundant element on the earth’s crust. It is commonly available as silicon dioxide, which can be either crystalline or non-crystalline. Non-crystalline silica, otherwise known as amorphous silica, is harmful to the human body when inhaled. Crystalline silica can also be broken down into small particles which can also be harmful when inhaled. Many construction and mining workers are exposed to airborne crystalline silica, which can cause a range of health problems such as:
- lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates the levels of silica dust allowed in work environments. They have a set of standards, rules and regulations that determine acceptable levels of silica dust to keep employees safe. OSHA currently requires all workplaces to have a permissible exposure limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over 8 hours.
How Do You Remove Silica Dust from Your Work Space?
The idea is to ensure minimal silica dust goes airborne after it has been produced. Some of the common methods used include water showers and vacuums. Water showers are set to fall over workspace and they drown and suppress the amount of silica dust in the air to reduce exposure. On the other hand, vacuums capture the dust at the source. When placed at the source of the silica dust, it will be sucked into the vacuum instead of being let into the air.
The two methods cannot remove all the silica dust from the air. At times, the levels of exposure still remain high even when these systems are in place. A NIOSH approved respirator becomes essential in such cases. The respirator is much more effective, but it does not protect those working in close vicinity of the silica dust source.
Where possible, it’s always a good idea to avoid using any method or machinery that produces a lot of silica dust. For example, Abrasive blasting is quite common in mining, but it produces an enormous amount of silica dust when sand is used. Using alternatives such as aluminum oxide would reduce the amount of silica dust that goes into the air.
Have an Exposure Control Plan
Workers who work in environments that contain silica dust have to have an exposure control plan and proper protective equipment. It is an OSHA requirement that all employers whose work sites that have traces of silica dust should have a written exposure control plan regardless of which control systems they have in place.
The plan clearly outlines how the workers are going to minimize their exposure to the silica dust. It describes the engineering control systems that are in place and worker practices that will help minimize exposure for each worker. OSHA requires workers to be trained to follow the plan and properly use the necessary equipment.
It is also important that exposure records are taken and medical exams are performed on the workers regularly. That would help identify and handle any health problems early before they become worse.