Ontivity Resources

Silica Exposure

New Braunfels, TX, August 30, 2023

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At one point or another, we have all driven by a construction site and noticed a big cloud of dust coming from an area where workers are present. That cloud of dust is often the result of cutting, chipping, or drilling in concrete, rock, or other similar materials. But have you ever paused to consider what that dust really is? In many cases, that dust is not just dust but instead, it is a bunch of tiny crystalline silica particles that, if not addressed properly, could pose a serious threat to everyone in which is exposed. Nearly two million workers are at risk of silica exposure every year and more than 100,000 of those workers are at high risk of exposure based on their job responsibilities. Depending on the level of exposure and duration, this can lead to silicosis. The good news is that silicosis is 100% preventable if you take the proper safety precautions in which we are going to discuss in today’s safety topic utilizing a three-step approach…


Prior to starting work on any job site, each member of the team must assess the site conditions as it relates to the task or tasks at hand. In this case, we are speaking specifically to the risk of exposure to silica dust and what we can do to mitigate that hazard on site. This starts with assessing the site and seeking an alternate method to avoid the associated risk all together. For example, if the scope of work involves the installation of a new port entry plate, yet there are three lines not currently in use, perhaps contacting the customer and requesting permission to decom the three lines that are no longer in use is more of a viable option as opposed to potentially exposing an employee or co-worker to an unnecessary hazard. Once again, the idea is to eliminate or substitute the risk in effort to avoid the potential for exposure all together.


If you are unable to substitute the job task that produces the hazard, as previously referenced, then the next step would be to utilize some form of engineering controls to eliminate the hazard. The use of water is the most common form of engineering control followed by the use of a dust collection system or a vacuum. Water can be applied to the blade through a hose, sprayer, or squirt bottle to suppress the dust emissions. Water may also be supplied from a portable pressurized tank or water buffalo. Other systems such as dust collection systems or vacuums are also viable solutions as long as they are designed by the manufacture to do so. By properly isolating the dust source, we successfully eliminate the hazard all together.


When speaking of the hierarchy of controls, PPE is identified as the last line of defense in the event the hazard cannot be substituted or eliminated via suitable means or engineered out. Even though PPE is mentioned last in the hierarchy of controls it should be considered during the planning phase. This starts with making sure you have a clear understanding of the hazards in which you will be exposed to followed by selecting the proper PPE. This can include proper work attire such as the use of a long sleeve shirt to gloves and glasses or face shield, all the way to dust masks or fitted respirators with replaceable filters or cartridges.  Either way, the PPE used must match the hazard encountered. For more information regarding the use of or the selection process of PPE, please make contact with your local safety professional.

If you would like more information on this topic or any other safety-related topic, please reach out to the Ontivity safety team at safety@ontivity.com, and we will get you taken care of. 

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