• Nov 07, 2021
  • Vipul Rana

Silica is a mineral that is typically encountered on building sites. When workers cut, drill, or grind silica-containing materials like slate, concrete, or limestone, they are constantly exposed to substantial amounts of silica. This silica is then discharged into the atmosphere, where it might be ingested by nearby employees. Inhaled silica can harm the human body in a variety of ways, especially the respiratory system. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, inhaled silica can cause silicosis and lung cancer over time. Silicosis causes scar tissue to form in an infected person's lungs, which, depending on the severity of the scarring, might lead to death.

Silica dust can be inhaled by construction workers from a variety of sources. Concrete workers are exposed to silica dust while mixing, sawing, jackhammering, chipping, grinding, and cleaning.  During earthmoving, excavation and trenching, and demolition, site preparation workers may be exposed, and drywall workers may be exposed when cutting drywall and sanding joints.

Construction workers are every day exposed to silica dust when they cut, grind, and drill concrete and other rock materials. Construction workers are concerned about inhaling dust and the impact it will have on their health.

What is Silica?

Silica is a basic mineral found in the earth's crust. Silica materials include glass, beach sand, silicone, and granite. Silica comes in two forms: crystalline and non-crystalline. The health of our lungs is more concerned with crystalline silica.

We're talking about crystalline silica, also known as quartz when we talk about silica exposure. When cutting, grinding, drilling, sanding, combining, or demolishing materials containing silica, construction workers may be exposed to silica.

The amount of risk is determined by the size of the airborne silica particles. Smaller particles can be breathed deeply into the lungs, causing harm. Larger particles, such as beach sand, provide less risk since they are too big to inhale.

How silica dust enters the lungs of a worker?

Respirable silica is made up of tiny, virtually invisible particles that can stay in the air for a long period, causing silicosis or black lung. Silica dust is a direct and serious health hazard for everyone who works near it.

What happens when a person is exposed to too much silica?

Silicosis is caused by inhaling silica deeply into the lungs. Silica particles lodge in the lung tissue and cause scarring in silicosis. As the lungs get less flexible, it becomes more difficult to breathe and perform strenuous work. The harm caused by silicosis is irreversible. There is no way out.

Silica Dust Respirator

Inhaling crystalline silica dust can cause lung cancer and raise the risk of TB. Construction workers exposed to silica dust have an elevated risk of silicosis and other respiratory ailments, according to studies.

How to protect lungs while working around silica dust?

You'll need to wear a silica respirator if you and your team are exposed to silica dust. Although you may believe that all you need to do is give respirators to your employees while they work, OSHA's rule requires employers to first adopt "engineering controls" to prevent their employees' exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The following are some cases of engineering controls:

  • To reduce airborne dust, use water during grinding.
  • Using a dust shroud that is acceptable.
  • Using a dust collector that is the right size and has at least 90% air filtration.
  • When engineering measures aren't enough to keep employees from being exposed to crystalline silica, respiratory protection is required.

What is the best way to control silica dust?

Respirators are the best option when you want to control silica dust. For controlling silica dust on construction sites, there are four different types of respirators to choose from. They are as follows: 

  • N95 respirator dust mask
  • P100 filter on a half-face Breath Buddy respirator
  • Breath Buddy full-face respirator with P100 filter
  • PAPR with P100 or HEPA filter is a motorized air-purifying respirator.

Breath Buddy Respirator

A two-strap dust mask or an N95 respirator is the most regularly used respirator on most construction sites. Occupational health rules demand that the respirator be fit-checked for each wearer if the dust or silica exposure exceeds the permitted limit. This ensures that the respirator fits the worker's face without leaking. It's tough to get a decent fit for N95 respirators. Several N95 respirator designs must often be tried before a good fit is discovered.

Choosing a Respirator for Silica

If you're looking for a silica dust respirator, seek one with a NIOSH rating of at least N95. There are several kinds to choose from, ranging from a 2-strap 'dust mask' to a full-face respirator with re-usable half masks in the center. It's critical to make sure you're a good match. The N95 rated filter will collect 95% of dust particles, but only a good fit will ensure that the whole air stream is filtered. We recommend looking into P100 filters as an upgrade. These are rated much higher, capable of capturing 99.9% of particles. You can use the Breath Buddy respirator to get complete protection from silica dust.

While most respirators feature an adjustable strap, you must ensure that your employees have access to fitting safety equipment. When it comes to picking a respirator for Silica, proper fit is crucial. Some masks may be too tiny or too large for some employees, so team leaders should provide a choice of solutions. If employees have facial hair, choose a respirator that covers the entire face to prevent air from seeping through the edges of the mask.

Breath Buddy's half-face respirator is ideal for workers who aren't exposed to silica dust regularly. To keep workers cool and comfortable on the job, the exhalation valve accelerates the exchange of fresh air with each breath.

Reusable Half-Masks

Breath Buddy Respirator

A reusable half-face respirator or negative-pressure respirator comprises a filter-holding unit made of molded plastic or rubber. Intake and exhaust valves are located on the mask, which is secured to the wearer's face by straps.

When the facepiece seal is leak-tight, this type of half-mask respirator features a removable filter that eliminates dust. The seal can irritate the skin on occasion. These respirators also obstruct dialogue and may cause eyeglasses or goggles to fog up.

Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFRs)

Respirator Silica dust

Another sort of negative pressure air-purifying respirator is FFRs, often known as dust masks. Half-mask respirators are heavier than full-face respirators. The mask is made entirely of filter material, which covers the mouth and nose.

When compared to replaceable-filter respirators, FFRs have a few advantages. They are more comfy and require no upkeep in particular. An FFR may be more difficult to fit than a reusable half-mask in a fit test. As a result, they are frequently ineffective compared to half-masks.

Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs)

BreathBuddy Respirator

A fan draws air through the filter to the user in powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs). They are more user-friendly than negative pressure air-purifying respirators, but they require a fully charged battery to function effectively. The filter classes of PAPRs are HE, PAPR100-N, and PAPR100-P. Each of the three filter series must achieve a minimum efficiency of 99.97 %. To choose the right filters/cartridges, you need to know what the hazard is and how much of it is in the air.

A hard hat with a battery-powered fan or a belt-worn battery and fan, filtration system, and face visor are common features of PAPRs, which provide protection for the head, lungs, eyes, and face all in one device. Another benefit is the absence of breathing resistance. Face hair can be managed with loose-fitting PAPRs. OSHA requires that tight-fitting facepiece PAPRs be fit-tested and worn without facial hair.

Guide­lines for Respirator Use

It is important to follow the manufacturer's directions if you're wearing a respirator. It's just as crucial to be comfortable as it is to have a good seal. Before finding the optimal fit for his or her facial anatomy, a worker may need to try multiple-size respirators or respirators from different manufacturers. Positive and negative pressure seal inspections are required after putting on a respirator to verify there are no leaks that would reduce the respirator's effectiveness.

Respirator maintenance

It's easy to keep a respirator in good working condition. The filter cartridges should be undamaged, the inhalation and exhalation valves should function properly, no straps should be slipping or broken, the facepiece should be free of tears or abnormalities, and the respirator should be sufficiently clean.

Filter replacement is a crucial component of using a respirator. Filters should usually be replaced when breathing resistance increases when they become broken or filthy, or at the end of a shift if they have been exposed to oil mists. When the filter loading reaches 200 mg of dust, another option is to replace the filter as directed by NIOSH 2018 rule.

Bottom Line

On construction sites, silica exposure is on average high and can be extremely severe. All the workers who are working on a construction site must wear a respirator. Respirators will give complete protection to the workers and will keep silica dust out from reaching their lungs.