The Hazards of Crystalline Silica Dust

November 14, 2020

While industrial work has been the backbone of the American economy for the better part of two centuries, it seems every year scientific findings show us more about the health effects of working with raw materials. Consequently, industries see regulatory compliances change on federal and state levels nearly every year. 

In fact, OSHA only recently updated their standards on crystalline silica dust (or SLC) to better protect construction and general industry workers. A high enough measure of silica dust for a long enough period of time can put workers at risk for serious medical issues in the short- and long-term. However, paired with the right equipment and employer vigilance, this harmful dust can be kept in check. 

Where Does Silica Dust Come From?

Crystalline silica dust is a dust contained in a wide range of minerals. In fact, the elements in which you may find crystalline dust make up 75% of the Earth’s crust. SLC’s forms are quartz, cristobalite, and tridymite – though quartz is the most common. Crystalline dust can derive from concrete, stone, brick, manmade stone, and even jewelry. Because it comes from such a range of materials, crystalline silica dust poses a health risk to workers across numerous industries.

Why Is It Dangerous?

Health experts have classified crystalline silica as a carcinogen. But cancer isn’t the only potential consequence of exposure. Inhaling crystalline silica dust can also result in a lung disease called silicosis. Silicosis symptoms can appear as early as a few months following exposure, but most commonly occur after 15-20 years of exposure – making it a dangerously sneaky condition a worker can develop throughout their career.

Symptoms of silicosis can include shortness of breath, chest pain, weight loss, and respiratory failure that may lead to death. What’s more, this disease can enable the lungs to become more susceptible to infections and, when paired with smoking, can increase serious lung damage. Note also that crystalline silica dust has been connected to kidney disease and chronic inflammatory lung disease.

What Types of Activities Pose a Threat?

Crystalline silica dust can be found in manufacturing, adhesives, glass, household products, and other commercial applications. Crystalline silica becomes a particle and therefore breathable upon certain work activities – notably chipping, cutting, drilling, and grinding. According to OSHA, SLC is especially hazardous to workers who take part in:

  • Quarry work
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Stonecutting industries
  • Foundry work
  • Brick and cement manufacturing
  • Ceramics
  • Steel industries

OSHA’s Workplace Standards for Crystalline Silica Dust

OSHA has issued two work industry compliance standards regarding crystalline silica for the protection of workers – one standard for general and maritime industry and the other for construction. Employers must monitor the air quality of their employees’ working environment to ensure that the amount of crystalline silica dust is under the permissible exposure limit (PEL). For both construction and general industry, that limit is 50 µg/m3 (microgram per cubic meter). If activities performed by the workers result in PEL that exceeds the limit, employers must provide respiratory protection.

Preventative Measures for Hazardous Dust Exposure

Additionally, employers across both mentioned standards must adhere to safe housekeeping practices to prevent hazardous amounts of silica dust from accumulating or floating up into the workspace of an employee.

OSHA prohibits dry brushing or dry sweeping, for example, as a means of housekeeping when working with SLC unless absolutely necessary and with protective measures in place. Otherwise, OSHA requires that employers use safer cleaning methods like wet sweeping and Certified HEPA-filtered vacuuming. These practices can reduce harmful dust exposure by preventing it from rising into the air.

Combatting Crystalline Silica Dust with Industrial Vacuum Cleaners

When you localize the suction of your dust with an industrial vacuum cleaner, you avoid the diffusion of fine particles that may otherwise be inhaled by your workers. Localized industrial vacuum cleaners can be integrated directly into the machines you use for processing so they may extract dangerous particles straight from the source, reducing the amount of crystalline silica dust in the air and ensuring your workers’ safety.

Additionally, certified HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters required by OSHA are designed to trap high quantities of particles that a standard vacuum would simply recirculate into the air. While not all HEPA filtered vacuums can collect and contain the necessary amount of dangerous dust, the Delfin Industrial Certified HEPA H14 filter traps dangerous particles with 99.995% efficiency. That is, these certified filters trap at 0.18 micron, which is significantly more efficient than the typical measurement – 0.30 micron. 

Batch Testing Filters vs. Individually Certified Filters

Batch testing filters simply test a sample of the product and may not conform to the filtration necessary for safety and compliance. Individually certified filters, however, can be relied on for consistency in performance and are more worth your investment. Individually certified filters, in other words, come with a 100% guarantee that there is no possibility of exposure, something batch testing filters cannot claim. Delfin Certified HEPA-filtered vacuums are individually certified to provide protection against exposure to harmful dust. 

Industrial Vacuums and Filters Built for Your Needs

Here at Delfin, we supply vacuums and accessories to help companies combat hazardous and combustible dust across a variety of industries. For over 25 years, we have helped employers and contractors become more efficient in keeping their workplaces safe, clean, and productive. Connect with us today to learn more about how to use industrial vacuums to keep your company OSHA compliant and prevent dangerous dust from harming your workers.

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