Working with silica dust – and exposure to it – is dangerous. That’s no secret. Even though silica dust is a naturally occurring common mineral found in the earth’s crust, breathing it in can lead to a number of serious health consequences. It starts with shortness of breath, chest pain, and a persistent cough. Then you progress downhill from there. In severe cases, you would end up with silicosis. Silicosis can lead to lung cancer, respiratory failure and failure of your other organs like your kidneys.
Silicosis is frequently fatal – and entirely preventable. When you work in an environment where you’re at a high risk of exposure to silica dust, wear the appropriate safety equipment, such as a respirator or face mask, as a minimum. And you should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis right away if you believe you’ve been exposed to silica dust, especially over a long period. With the proper precautions, you and your bosses can reduce your risk of developing silicosis and other serious health problems that can result from exposure to this harmful mineral.
Silica dust is a common mineral in the earth’s crust. You find silica dust in a variety of natural and man-made environments. Exposure to this harmful substance is typically a result of working with certain materials, or with equipment that produces airborne particles of silica. Common sources of silica dust include construction work, mining, and manufacturing processes such as sandblasting, glassmaking – and stone countertop fabrication. Sure, there’s silica content even in granite… But the worst offender in our industry (by far) is the engineered stone that’s so popular with your customers right now. You kick up tiny airborne particles of silica dust when your work activities disturb silica-containing materials. Cutting or processing sand, concrete and quartz as an example generates huge amounts of silica dust. These particles are so fine that you can suck them straight into the lungs. And you can’t see them with the naked eye.
Silica dust exposure can have serious health consequences, including the risk of developing a lung disease called silicosis. In its most severe form, silicosis can lead to respiratory failure – and death. Even in less severe cases it can still lead to symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and a frequent, hacking cough. Silicosis is the most well-known of the health problems associated with silica dust exposure. It can also lead to other serious illnesses including lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Once breathed in, the crystalline particles travel deep into the most important operational parts of your lungs. Then they lodge themselves into the lung tissue. Over time, your body tries to reject these foreign particles. But because they’re lodged in tight, your body deals with them in the only way it knows how… By covering them in scar tissue. This scarring continually reduces your lung function to the point where breathing eventually becomes really difficult. Basically, the scarring interferes with (and eventually prevents) the main job of your lungs – absorbing oxygen. The lungs stiffen, and they stop doing their only job. Which is kind of a big deal. It’s also why in most cases silicosis takes such a long time to develop. And why it takes years to show symptoms after the initial exposure to silica dust that caused it.
Some people worry that if they breathe in silica or have just one short term exposure to silica dust, they will develop silicosis. A single short term exposure to high concentrations of airborne silica dust might cause silicosis if it was high enough. That being said, the disease is typically the result of repeated or prolonged exposure to lower concentrations of silica dust. There is an accelerated form of silicosis which can be caused by high levels of exposure (1-5mg/m3) over a shorter period, perhaps even just one-two years. This accelerated form of silicosis can kill within just a few years of first exposure. While silicosis is irreversible, and often fatal, it is also a totally preventable disease. Taking simple and appropriate precautions to avoid exposures to this harmful mineral can go a very long way to protecting you. The steps that you take to protect yourself from exposure to silica dust are often simple and obvious. And if you work in an environment where there is a potential for exposure, it’s important to be aware of the risks and take steps to protect yourself.
No. Inhaling silica dust is bad news, for all manner of respiratory and health reasons… Silica dust does not leave the lungs. Breathe it in, and the particles of silica dust stick in your lungs and you can’t remove them. They’re there for good. Forever. As your body tries to reject these foreign particles, a process called inflammation occurs. That inflammation leads to scarring and ongoing damage to your lungs. If you work in an environment where there is a risk of silica dust exposure – such as construction, mining, or countertop fabrication – it’s important to take steps to protect yourself.
Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as a quality dust mask or respirator, is an important first step. It’s important to work in well-ventilated areas as well. Work wet wherever and whenever possible, and avoid disturbing silica-containing materials if you can. Of course, if your sole job is to cut, process and polish quartz countertops, you’re going to have a hard time avoiding disturbance. Which is why you need to bring your protective A-game. It’s critical to have proactive, real-time monitoring to get advanced warning of when and where you’re in danger. Before it’s too late. By taking these all-too-simple precautions, you can help to protect yourself from the serious health problems of silica dust exposure.
Most of the time you don’t – until it’s far, far too late. If you’re worried that you may have been exposed to too much silica dust, there are a few things you can do to find out. First – you need to be asking your doctor about having a chest X-ray done. This will help you to figure out if you have any of the telltale signs of silicosis, such as scarring or inflammation in your lungs. Also consider doing a lung function test to check for any reduced lung capacity due to the damage caused by silica dust. But while these tests can help you to diagnose silicosis, they will not be able to determine the exact concentration of silica dust that caused it. For this, real-time monitoring using a proven air quality monitor is essential.
There is finally a real-time Respirable Crystalline Silica monitor available to do exactly what it says on the box. The world’s first and only real-time Respirable Crystalline Silica monitor, the Air XS from Trolex is a truly groundbreaking device. It allows you to see exactly what your exposure levels are, in real-time. You discover where your highest risk areas are, and it alerts you to dangerous exposure before it’s too late. The Air XS is fully portable for redeployment around the fabshop. Or you can mount it in a fixed position too. Winning awards even before launch, the Air XS from Trolex is your only reliable and real-time way of detecting and monitoring your exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica dust. It is available to the stone industry in the US and UK from Stone Industry Group Ltd.