An Employer's Essential Guide to Silica Safety
Silica is seizing America by the throat. 2.3 million Americans are exposed to silica at the workplace. Each of these workers is at risk for significant health problems.
But you shouldn't panic. You can achieve silica safety through a few basic steps. The first step is to educate yourself on what silica safety means.
What is so dangerous about silica? What should you provide to your workers to keep them safe? How can you adjust your processes so you avoid creating silica dust?
Answer these questions and you can achieve workplace safety in no time. Here is your quick guide.
Understand the Health Hazards of Silica
Silica is a naturally-occurring mineral found in most supplies of clay, rocks, and sand. Silica is a critical ingredient in the production of bricks, ceramics, and glass.
However, it can generate dust that can lead to significant health problems. If ingested or inhaled, silica can damage the respiratory and circulatory systems.
Silicosis is a condition that occurs after years of silica exposure. After contacting significant amounts of silica, a person's lung tissue may begin to harden or develop scars. The lung tissue may be so damaged that someone cannot walk short distances without becoming winded.
Silica exposure can lead to lung cancer. Many workers develop silicosis and then have tumors in the areas where their lung tissue has been damaged. But it is possible to develop cancer without silicosis.
A little exposure to silica may not lead to silicosis or cancer. Yet silica can immediately damage lung tissue, making someone more vulnerable to other airborne substances.
Substitute the Silica
It can be hard to substitute silica because it is in so many natural materials. But you should make substitutions whenever you can do so. If you use silica sand for blasting, you should try using plastic beads or high-pressure steams of water instead.
If you must use silica, you can change the way you use it so you make less dust. You can split rocks with a hammer or ax instead of sawing them.
Provide Good Air Circulation
Silica particles are very small, so it is hard to remove them from the air. You should install filters over your air conditioning and ventilation systems. The filters can trap some particles and prevent them from circulating.
Whenever possible, ask your workers to work outside. If they must work in an enclosed area, open windows and doors so the air circulates.
Separate workstations by several feet. This promotes air circulation and prevents dust that one worker creates from harming another worker.
Wearing respirators should be mandatory for anyone working with silica. A respirator should cover someone's entire mouth and form a snug fit against their face. It can come with eye protection, or someone can wear a separate pair of goggles.
Respirators should be cleaned every week to remove silica dust and other contaminants. You may need to replace air filters multiple times a week if the workers are around silica for long periods of time.
A cloth bandana does not work as a respirator, as silica particles are small to slip through the fibers in the fabric. N-95 facemasks are okay for employees who have short-term exposure to silica, but they offer minimal protection for workers with long-term exposure. At a minimum, an employee should wear a half-face mask with N-95 air filters.
Use Engineering Controls
Engineering controls are workplace strategies that improve safety around silica. You can make silica dust wet, which will pull the dust to the ground and keep it from circulating through the air. You can buy jackhammers and other workplace tools with hoses that produce a constant stream of water.
If a worker is working on a brick wall, they can use a vacuum cleaner to suck the dust out of the air. You can attach a hose to the vacuum cleaner so the dust travels away.
Screen Your Employees
OSHA requires you to offer medical exams to employees who wear respirators for more than 30 days per year. These exams can occur once every three years, and they must include chest x-rays and lung function tests.
Anyone who shows signs of silicosis or lung damage must receive medical help right away. You may need to transfer your employee to a new job where they have less silica exposure.
Educate Your Employees
Before you start any job in the construction industry, you should conduct silica training. Your training can be a part of your standard workplace training, or you can have a separate session on silica exposure. You can also ask your employees to take online courses in silica safety.
Explain what the health effects of silica exposure are and what steps you are taking to prevent health problems. Inform your workers about workers' compensation and how they can receive medical assistance if they develop lung disorders.
Create Silica Safety Today
Silica safety depends on you. Silica exposure can cause lung disorders in just a few years. You should substitute silica for other materials whenever possible.
Workers must remain in areas with good air circulation and wear respirators as they work on silica. You can use tools with water hoses and vacuum cleaners to move silica dust away from your workers. All employees should receive safety training so they know why silica is a problem.
Do not hesitate to inform your workers about health hazards. Compliance Training Online provides premium safety training classes. Browse our course catalog today.
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