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Dangerous Dust: Silica in the Workplace

Silica dust contains very small crystalline silica particles-100 times smaller than ordinary grains of sand. This common mineral is found in concrete, stone, sand, and mortar. When workers engage in activities like sawing, drilling, blasting, jackhammering, and grinding materials, respirable silica dust is created.

Workers who inhale silica dust can develop serious, potentially debilitating silica-related diseases. Years of exposure to this hazardous material can cause lung cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and silicosis. Workers who develop silicosis, an incurable lung disease, are also at increased risk of other respiratory problems like chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and tuberculosis. Silica awareness and OSHA training help limit workers' exposures to this dangerous dust.

According to OSHA, around 2.3 million people are exposed to silica at work in the United States. This includes workers in occupations related to various forms of mining, construction, tunnel work, quarrying, sand blasting, masonry, ceramics, stone cutting, and glass manufacturing. In 2017, OSHA revised and implemented new respirable (inhalable) silica standards to protect workers. The new standards address what employers must do to protect workers engaged in activities that produce silica dust, as well as construction silica training for those at risk of exposure.

While the requirements of OSHA's silica standard are complex, compliance is mandatory. Failing to comply with the silica standard has significant consequences, not only for employee health but also for a company's bottom line. As of January 2019, a serious or other-than-serious violation carries a maximum penalty of $13,260 per violation. OSHA has the discretion to group violations into a single penalty, impose penalties for each violation of each section of the regulation, or impose penalties for every affected worker. In certain circumstances, companies using subcontractors can be fined when the subcontractors are found in violation of OSHA's silica rules.

Silica standards apply to all working environments at risk of developing silica dust. In April 2018, a U-Haul facility in Buffalo, New York, was cited for exposing employees to silica and asbestos during renovation work. OSHA inspectors found that the worksite had not been tested for hazards, that a competent person had not been assigned to oversee renovation work, and the area lacked a decontamination room. Employees were not provided with necessary protective clothing, respiratory protection, or training related to the hazards of asbestos and silica exposure. As a result, the U-Haul company faces over $100,000 in proposed fines.

Common dust control methods-such as using respirators, wetting down work operations, and using vacuums or other local exhaust ventilation to keep dust out of the air-offer some protection from silica exposure. OSHA certification for silica training ensures that both employers and employees know the risks associated with silica dust, how to create and follow a written exposure control plan, and the role each person plays in maintaining safe and compliant working conditions.

Silica Training Online is a convenient way to protect workers exposed to respirable silica dust. The course presents an overview of the dangers of silica and addresses safe work practices to decrease and mitigate the dangers of silica exposure.



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