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How to Avoid Exposure to Silica

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How to Avoid Exposure to Silica

Silica is a naturally occurring mineral compound. It is found in 2 forms, crystalline and noncrystalline (also known amorphous) and is present in all kinds of building materials including sand, asphalt, bricks, cement, tile and quartz.

Crystalline silica is the most hazardous of the 2 forms, although it is safe if left undisturbed. However, in the building industry, these materials are often cut up, ground down and drilled ready for use and installation. It is this interference with the materials which causes a fine dust – respirable crystalline silica (RCS) – that can be inhaled by workers, resulting in a form of occupational lung disease now diagnosed as silicosis. There is no safe amount of RCS dust, even a small amount can result in symptoms.

The symptoms of silicosis

The fine crystalline silica dust, or RCS, causes shortness of breath, coughs, fever and even a slight blue pigment in the skin, and results in inflammation and scarring of the lungs. The symptoms are similar to pneumonia or tuberculosis, and because it is a progressive disease, they will continue to worsen even after exposure to the substance has ceased, and ultimately, can be fatal. In 2013, there were a reported 46,000 deaths caused by silicosis worldwide.

However, unlike work-related illnesses, silicosis may not be diagnosed immediately as it can take more than 10 years to develop symptoms.

How can I avoid the risks?

The employer’s responsibility

It is your employer’s duty to protect you from risks in the workplace. They should consider the task at hand and carry out an effective risk assessment in order to identify and apply the appropriate risk control methods. If possible, cuts or drilling of materials that contain silica should be avoided. If this is not possible, and no other materials can be used, the risk can be minimised by not using power tools. For example, a block splitter will create much less RCS dust than a powered cutter.

If power tools are used, a water suppression or extraction tool should be used to control the RCS dust produced. All workers should be provided with a face mask and these should be face fitted to ensure a tight and effective fit. And finally, all work that involves cutting, drilling or otherwise disrupting silica-containing materials should be carried out away from others.

Your employer should also provide training to ensure you can use the risk controls (personal protective equipment and tools) appropriately and to ensure you fully understand the risks associated with silica materials.

The worker’s responsibility

As a worker, it is essential you are aware of the dangers related to RCS dust, and use the personal protective equipment supplied by your employer.  Always check the equipment you are given is in good working order and be sure to follow the safe plan of work provided by your employer. If you are in any doubt as to the safety of the proposed plan, stop and speak to a superviser.

Health and Safety Training Ltd

Here at Health and Safety Training Ltd, we provide a range of training options for managers and workers to ensure everyone within your organisation is properly prepared to undertake their jobs safely and legally.

To find out more, and ensure you’re doing all you can to keep your team safe from the risk of respirable crystalline silica, simply give us a call. We tailor all our training courses to suit the individual hazards presents at your premises and will help you to establish a safe system of work.

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