How To Control Harmful Silica Dust

It’s essential to ensure that your workplace implements effective dust control measures to limit the harm of silica dust exposure to your workers.
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Silica dust can be incredibly harmful to workers, particularly if they’re exposed to breathing in high levels of dust or over a long period which is why it’s essential to ensure that the workplace implements effective control measures to limit silica dust exposure.

Silica dust is a byproduct of mechanical processes like cutting, crushing, sandblasting, sawing, drilling and polishing both natural and manmade stone material and products that contain the mineral. In order to protect against silica dust exposure, there are a number of control measures that can be implemented to help protect air quality.

Employers at worksites at risk of silica dust exposure have a duty of care to protect their workers from airborne silica dust and are also required to abide by strict regulatory requirements surrounding silica dust exposure.

What is silica dust? 

Silica dust, also known as crystalline silica, is a mineral that’s present in a number of natural and synthetic materials such as stone, sand, gravel, rock and clay as well as bricks, tiles, concrete, engineered stone products and some plastics. 

When materials containing crystalline silica are disturbed through mechanical activities like drilling, sawing, cutting, grinding and sanding, crystalline silica dust is released into the air. These minute particles, also known as respirable silica dust, are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs when inhaled, which can lead to increased exposure and a significant risk of irreparable lung damage and terminal illness.

Because of the circumstances through which silica dust is produced, it’s often present at a range of jobs and worksites, like mining, construction and excavation sites as well as certain manufacturing sites. 

Why is exposure to silica dust particles a health hazard? 

Silica dust particles are 100 times smaller than a grain of sand. Not only are they invisible to the naked eye, but their size also means they’re easily inhaled and absorbed into the lungs, which can cause permanent damage with prolonged or excessive exposure.

Increase exposure to silica dust can lead to a number of deadly illnesses including: 

  • Lung cancer, 
  • Kidney disease,
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and
  • Silicosis, which causes irreversible scarring to the lungs.

There’s no doubt that silica dust exposure is incredibly harmful to people, but its abrasive nature can also be very damaging to the equipment and resources used around it. In order to combat damage and wear caused by silica dust, it’s best to regularly inspect your equipment for deterioration and maintain it to keep it in working order.

How to prevent silica dust?

In most cases eliminating silica dust completely from the work site isn’t possible, but there are a number of workplace exposure standard and control measures you can implement to protect workers against exposure to silica dust. Often a combination of protective measures is needed to safeguard employees’ health when working with products that contain silica. 

Workers who come into contact with silica dust should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) or respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to minimise the amount of exposure. It’s also important to ensure that you’re using the correct equipment and ventilation equipment to extract silica dust. Other silica dust reduction methods include:

  • Substituting materials that contain crystalline silica with a comparable product that’s less hazardous and poses fewer risks,
  • Isolating workers from silica dust with barriers or isolation booths,
  • Implementing dust suppression controls like:
    • wet cutting methods,
    • local exhaust ventilation,
    • automating processes that produce silica dust,
    • fitting compatible equipment with local exhaust ventilation and water attachments to suppress dust,
    • fitting large machinery with positive pressure enclosed cabs
    • cleaning dust with industrial H class vacuum cleaners.
  • Using ventilation systems, 
  • Introducing administrative controls like written procedures and training guides
  • Decontaminating the worksite to remove silica dust.

Control Hire offers a range of different dust control equipment that helps to minimise dust exposure by filtering, suppressing and extracting dust from work sites. Our range of dust control equipment is portable so it can be easily transported to the work site and placed close to the source of dust to increase safety and minimise exposure around construction areas. 

Information about Australian silica dust requirements 

In Australia, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) is required to minimise worker exposure to silica dust as reasonably practicable. The mandatory limit for silica dust exposure in Australia is 0.05mg/m3 averaged over an 8 hour day, five days a week.

PCBUs are required to engage an occupational hygienist or someone of an equivalent profession to provide air and dust monitoring that measures workers’ exposure to silica dust. PCBUs must also provide regular health monitoring to workers who are continuously exposed to silica dust. Monitoring can detect reduced lung function before permanent damage occurs and should be carried out either before each placement or every three years. 

Although silica dust poses a threat of diseases to workers that are regularly exposed, there are a number of control measures that are available to workplaces and employers that help to preserve the air quality at a worksite. Get in touch with the team at Control Hire to discuss your project requirements so we can get you set up with the right dust control equipment for the job.

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