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June 21, 2021

Silica Dust: The Dangers and How You Can Mitigate Them

While it doesn’t look like silica dust is going away anytime soon, you may want to consider using an alternative material for your worksite when possible. After all, regulations in the United States of America (USA) are starting to get tighter. And it’s possible those restrictions will become the norm for other countries too.

In fact, just last year, the USA’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a national emphasis program on the material. It’s an initiative that’s meant to restrict silica dust exposure due to the risk it can pose for workers in a number of industries. As a result, you can now expect more inspections on your management of the material. And if your management doesn’t follow the updated regulations, you could face monetary penalties from $5,000 up to $70,000.

Not long after these restrictions were implemented, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Labor argued for stricter standards for silica dust management in mines. Those included making use of more frequent silica sampling protocols and issuing citations and fines for excess silica dust exposures.

Similar plans for stricter regulations were approved in 2019 in Australia. The hope was to limit the silica dust exposure that stonemasons in the country experience. While regulations were tightened to a degree, they weren’t tightened as much as planned as there was concern over giving businesses enough time to meet the new compliance requirements.

But why is there such resistance? What makes silica dust so appealing and concerning at the same time? Is there no way around this infamous construction material?

To get a better understanding of the situation, we’ll take a deep dive on the subject. Join us as we delve into why silica dust is popular, what makes it dangerous, and how you can minimize its usage.

Construction site and equipment – aerial view

Hard to Avoid, Silica Dust Comes from a Number of Helpful Construction Materials

Whether we like it or not, silica dust comes from a very common mineral. Known just as silica, this mineral is found throughout the earth’s crust. It can come in two different forms: crystalline and noncrystalline silica. That first form is the one we often call silica dust. And it comes in a form of its own known as quartz. It too is also easily found throughout the world as it’s a basic component in sand, gravel, clay, granite, and various rocks.

As you can probably already tell, that means silica dust can be pretty hard to avoid. It’s in a lot of basic construction materials:

  • Concrete
  • Cement
  • Mortar
  • Tiles
  • Bricks
  • Rock- and stone-based asphalt
  • Blasting abrasives

All of which are often the building blocks to a wide variety of construction projects. They help construction workers create buildings, warehouses, and many other structures.

In some cases, silica dust can even be found in products that are meant to help protect structures. That includes surface-applied concrete hardening products like dry shake hardeners.

It’s what makes it so difficult to avoid silica dust. It’s part of our essential building materials, helping to make it possible to construct projects in the first place.

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