AIHce Panel Addresses the Dangers of Silica Exposure

Silica exposure is a topic that everyone from OSHA to product manufacturers need to take into consideration.

Tuesday's lecture "Crystalline Silica: Issues and Controls" at AIHce addressed the dangers of this dust and the ways everyone in the industry, from OSHA to manufacturers are trying to address this issue for the future safety of workers.

Crystalline silica is found in dirt, soil, ceramics, concrete, brick, and numerous other materials encountered by workers daily. As construction occurs, tools, like jackhammers, create a dust cloud of silica that is harmful to workers.

The four perspectives of silica protection and concerns were derived from the views of the construction companies, OSHA, product manufacturers, and the customers hiring companies to complete the work.

Lisa Capicik, from George-based Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC, addressed some concerns that are present for those in the field dealing with silica exposure daily. Once concern Capicik discussed was the misconception that short exposure does little harm.

Capicik gave the example of workers who complete small jobs, like curb or gutter work, who assume short exposure does no harm.

"They'll leave this job where they've spent anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours doing their saw cutting and they're moving to the next job," Capicik said. "They schedule their work to be most efficient. Thats how they make their money. When you hear that, 'Hey, my exposure is only 30 minutes; it's not a big deal. It's outside.' It is when you look at how they go about scheduling their work."

So what is the best way to monitor and educate workers for protection against silica dust?

"The tools out there that we can get to the less educated up to speed are becoming more and more available," Capicik said. 

One such tool is Silica-Safe.org, a website including facts and training on silica safety and protection. 

Other protection measures include respiratory protection, housekeeping, change and wash areas, accurate record keeping, management of food and break areas.

Michael Pannell Ph.D., a senior industrial hygienist at OSHA's Office of Health Enforcement discussed the effects that fracking has had on the increased necessity for silica protection and awareness.

“With the advent of fracking almost half of all samples taken during fracking operations exceed [permissible exposure limits],” Pannell said.

Wayne Benedict, senior director of business development at Hilti, shared some of the factors that product manufacturers take into account when silica dust is handled. 

Three areas that are focused on by industry innovators are working safely, health and safety, and improving productivity. 

Dust removal systems, or DRS, manufactured and distributed by Hilti, are what Benedict views as the future of silica dust exposure prevention. 

“The cleanup effort itself is significant,” Benedict said. “In this example, we’re saying that 35 pounds of dust are created in a normal work day. Using DRS, it is ... a lot less than that - 3.5 ounces compared to 35 pounds.”

The fourth and final speaker, Steven Fess from Xerox Corporation, elaborated on the customer’s responsibility in silica exposure prevention. 

According to Fess, it is important to consider the task (no matter how small), the site of the the necessary work prior to beginning the job, planning ahead, and being well-versed in OSHA standards. 

For more information on silica safety and existing OSHA standards, visit OSHA.gov.

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