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What You Need to Know About Silica Dust

20/01/2020

Understanding risks on site means everything in the construction industry today. The old ways won’t do anymore. We want to protect ourselves, our workmates and anyone who steps foot on site. 

Exposure to silica dust has been spotlighted as one of the major risks to workers in recent times. According to 1 NEWS, more than 100 enforcement actions have been taken against  Kiwi businesses since alarms were raised in Australia, where there have been several deaths.

 

What is silica dust?

A valid question. Silica dust (crystalline silica) is found in some stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay. You’ll mostly come across it in the following products:

  • Bricks
  • Tiles
  • Concrete
  • Some plastic material

When these materials are worked on, a fine dust is released known as respirable crystalline silica or silica dust. And it’s this dust that is harmful when inhaled into your lungs. Needless to say, it’s something for tradies to be aware of. 

 

How can workers be exposed to it?

You may be exposed to silica dust if your work involves:

  • Construction
  • Kitchen benchtop manufacturing, finishing and fitting
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Manufacturing of concrete, bricks and tiles
  • Monumental masonry work
  • Concrete drilling, cutting, grinding, fettling, mixing, handling, dry shoveling, tunneling
  • Quarrying and roading
  • Foundries

 

Are there significant health risks?

In short, yes. And they can be incredibly serious if the right precautions aren’t taken. As silica dust is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, you can be breathing it in without even knowing it.

Workers may develop a series of lung diseases from breathing in silica dust, including: silicosis, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. There is also some evidence that exposure to the dust may cause kidney disease.

 

What can be put in place on site to mitigate the risks?

To follow work health and safety laws, employers should eliminate or reduce exposure to hazards by mitigating risks. This can be done in a number of ways: 

 

Isolate work areas

Use physical barriers or computer numerical control (CNC) machines.

 

Look for dust control features

When buying equipment ensure dust-generating equipment has a dust collection system with a filtered air supply.

 

Use a H-class vacuum cleaner

Workers should not be using household vacuums to remove dust. 

 

Set up exclusion zones

Mark the boundaries of work areas where dust is created. The signs should warn workers and specify the PPE to be used.

 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE should not be the first or only control measure you consider but should be used. Seek expert advice when choosing it and consult with the worker who will be using it.

 

On-tool extraction

Use Local Exhaust Ventilation ( LEV) that fits directly onto the hand-held machines. This is one of the most effective ways of controlling dust.

 

Water suppression

To be used when LEV is not suitable. Water should be used through non-electric tools to wet dust down at the point of dust generation. Also ensure equipment and work areas are cleaned regularly with water.

 

Respiratory (breathing) protection

The type of respirator you choose will depend on the job and the levels of toxicity. Always choose a respirator that fully protects the worker and carry out fit testing so it is sealed tightly against the face.

 

Exposure and health monitoring 

Provide health monitoring for all your workers who may be exposed to silica dust. You can engage with an occupational health practitioner at OK Health – HazardCo customers even get a special discount.

 

Training

Health and safety starts with educating your workers. Provide them with information, training, and instruction on the control measures and the potential health. It is their right.

The above, is of course, just guidance. Employers are required to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at their workplace, and have a duty to control the risks associated with the job at hand.

But with this said, workers also have a duty to take care of themselves and others too. At HazardCo, we’re all about education. Equipping workers with the knowledge they need to make sure workers get home safe at the end of everyday.

To know about health and safety and how to protect your team, get in touch today

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