Protecting Yourself Against Silica
Breathing in minute crystalline silica particles can cause multiple diseases, including silicosis, an incurable lung disease that leads to disability and death. Employees who work in occupations with silica exposure are also susceptible to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease. These diseases are life-altering and debilitating disorders that annually affect thousands of workers across the United States.
What is silica?
- Silica is part of the compound silicon dioxide
- Crystalline silica is very dangerous in dust form
- When crystalline silica is cut, chipped or drilled, it creates silica dust
What does silica do to the body?
- When silica dust is inhaled, it is lodged in your lungs forever
- Silica particles block oxygen inhalation
- Silica inhalation can lead to: bronchitis, tuberculosis, silicosis and cancer – all of which can be disabling or deadly
So how can you protect yourself either on the job or at home from inhaling this dangerous dust? There are a few ways:
- Check product labels or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to see if the products you're using contain silica
- Use silica-free substitutes when possible
- Wear a respirator if necessary – and be sure facial hair doesn't prevent the respirator from creating a "seal" against your face
- Wear disposable work clothes if possible
- Vacuum silica dust off of work clothes at the end of every shift
- Wash your hands and face before eating, drinking, smoking or applying make-up after every shift
- Wet drill: Applying water sprays to surfaces that contain silica can reduce the creation of silica dust by 75%
- Wet saws: Saws that provide water directly to the blade reduce silica dust in the air
- Wet sweep: Never dry sweep dust that contains silica – always wet the dust down before grabbing a broom
- Never use compressed air to clean up silica dust – it only kicks the dust back up into the air
- Keep work areas clean to reduce the amount of silica dust in the air