Each year, approximately 2 million American employees are exposed to crystalline silica, a hazardous form of dust. According to the Center to Protect Workers Rights (CPWR), Silver Spring, Md., silica is found in sand, rock, masonry, concrete, and some paints. Not surprisingly, construction workers have a greater chance of exposure than workers in any other industry.

To address this issue, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Washington, D.C., recently established a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) aimed at work sites where employees are at risk for developing silicosis — a disabling, nonreversible, and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by inhaling a large amount of crystalline silica.

“Under this program, OSHA will work diligently to maximize the protection of employees and eliminate workplace exposures to silica-related hazards,” says Edwin G. Foulke, Jr., assistant secretary of labor for OSHA.

In addition, the following actions are recommended to reduce the risk of exposure to silica:

  • Wet down dry materials and surfaces before you work with them or before you sweep them.

  • Use local exhaust ventilation to reduce airborne dust where it originates.

  • For abrasive blasting, replace silica sand with safer materials or use safer methods.

  • When doing abrasive blasting, you need to use a type CE abrasive blasting respirator (positive pressure/pressure demand, with an APF of 1,000 or 2,000).

  • When drilling in rock that may contain silica, you may need a respirator.

  • If a respirator is needed, OSHA says you must have a full respiratory protection program.

  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke near silica.

  • Change out of your work clothes before going home.

Source: The Center to Protect Workers Rights (CPWR), Silver Spring, Md.