SILICA—It’s Not Just Dust!
On June 23rd, the new OSHA began enforcing new silica standards for general industry. Are you ready?
Silica can be found in the amorphous and crystalline state, the main difference is the crystalline state has atoms arranged in a repeating pattern. Crystalline silica mainly is found in the forms of quartz, cristobalite and tridymite.
Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth’s crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete, and mortar contain crystalline silica. It is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, and artificial stone.
Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might find on beaches and playgrounds – is created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. Activities such as abrasive blasting with sand; sawing brick or concrete; sanding or drilling into concrete walls; grinding mortar; manufacturing brick, concrete blocks, stone countertops, or ceramic products; and cutting or crushing stone result in worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica dust. Industrial sand used in certain operations, such as foundry work and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), is also a source of respirable crystalline silica exposure. According to OSHA, about 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work.
Workers who inhale these very small crystalline silica particles are at increased risk of developing serious silica-related diseases, including health effects such as silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease.
To better protect workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica, OSHA issued two new respirable crystalline silica standards: one for construction, and the other for general industry and maritime. OSHA began enforcing most provisions of the standard for construction on September 23, 2017, and will begin enforcing most provisions of the standard for general industry and maritime on June 23, 2018.
The new PEL is 50 µg/m3 with an action level of 25 µg/m3. These values will take in consideration all forms of crystalline silica (the sum of all types of crystalline silica present in the work atmosphere collected in the air sample).
For more information on silica exposure in the workplace or to schedule an air sampling project, contact John Frazer at 304-303-3110.
John Frazer, Ph.D., CSP
Industrial Extension Engineer
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