how to protect from silica dust

Silica dust is considered one of the most dangerous hazards when working in the construction or demolition industries. With its extremely small particles, silica dust is practically naked to the human eye, and should be cleared as quickly as possible to avoid inhalation. In this post we have detailed the many ways you can protect yourself and the risks silica dust has to your body.

So how can you protect yourself against silica dust? PPE, RPE, industrial vacuums and dust extractors are all valid options for protecting yourself when working with silica dust. Water can also be used to spray any surfaces to reduce the amount of silica dust created. Food and drink should not be consumed in the vicinity of the workspace to avoid contamination.

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Read on to find out what health conditions silica dust can cause and the steps you can put in place to avoid them. 

How Can You Protect Yourself from the Dangers of Silica Dust?

Silica dust, also known as concrete dust, is one of the most dangerous materials when working in construction or demolition. It is small enough to enter into the body through any orifice and can cause major internal issues if  inhaled.

Safety should always be the number one priority when working in these industries regardless, but especially when working with materials that produce silica dust when ground, cut, drilled, or polished. Silica dust is known to stay airborne for up to 12 hours in an enclosed room, however this can vary depending on the scale, location and materials used for the project.

To protect yourself from silica dust, start by assessing the needs of your specific workplace, if there will be a lot of silica dust present at all times, who will be exposed to it and how you can potentially reduce the size of the hazardous area. Here are some other recommended ways to protect yourself from silica dust:

RPE

RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) is used to help you breathe safely in environments where silica dust levels are high.

To ensure that your RPE mask fits correctly, you should use our face fit testing service to make sure you achieve a good seal between the face-piece and the wearer’s skin.

As there are large varieties of face shapes and sizes, you should find the particular model that suits your needs, maximizing the protection gained from wearing the mask. Making sure your face mask fits your face properly is a regulatory requirement when working with hazardous materials.

Industrial Vacuum

H-Type vacuums are specially designed to remove hazardous materials from the workplace to prevent them from entering and damaging the body.

British standards stipulate that such equipment filters must have high-performance filtration which is capable of filtering even the smallest particles, measuring just a fraction of a micron.

Using an H-Class industrial vacuum can collect the silica dust reducing the amount that may become airborne.

PPE

The most basic, but effective, form of protection against silica dust is wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) while working in the vicinity of the project. Face coverings, face masks, overalls, eye protection and ear protectors are all valid examples of protection to prevent silica dust entering your body.

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Training

Every member of the team should be trained on identifying the signs of silica dust hazards. There are training courses available which cover the different types of silica dust, the potential health risks, how to assess and control exposure and how to protect yourself while working with the materials.  

Water

Water should be used to spray surfaces and materials to prevent silica dust from becoming airborne, thus reducing the amount that can potentially enter your lungs.

You can even attach a water spray onto the equipment you use to work more efficiently while reducing the amount of dust created. Spray Canons are even used when needing to suppress dust in larger areas.

Dust Extraction

Dust Extraction Units or Air Movers are another good option for protecting against inhaling silica dust, however you must have the correct HEPA filter to ensure they are capable of filtering silica dust.

Dust extraction units are often temporary measures to filtrate hazardous particles that are airborne. The units effectively inhale contaminated air trapping silica dust (or other hazardous particles). Clean air is then expelled removing harmful particulates from the working environment. Dust extraction units can come in various sizes for various airflow requirements.

There are also a few general steps that are considered good practice when protecting against silica dust:

  • All protective equipment should be removed before entering any personal vehicles or buildings to prevent the spread of silica dust. 
  • If any dust enters your eyes, you should wash them immediately. 
  • Food and drink should never be consumed in an area where silica dust is present. 
  • Warning signs should also be placed around areas where silica dust levels are particularly high to ensure everyone is aware of the danger. 

Why is Silica Dust So Dangerous?

There are a number of different health conditions that can occur if silica dust is inhaled. Short term exposure to silica dust usually causes irritation in the nose and throat, whilst long term exposure can result in severe health concerns including occupational asthma, lung cancer, kidney disease and Silicosis. Silicosis is a lung disease that can occur when large amounts of crystalline silica dust is inhaled, usually over many years.

As the more severe health conditions caused by silica dust consumption may take many years to show, it is extremely important to take preventative measures long before it becomes a problem.

Once the particles enter the body, they can continue to cause major damage, and unfortunately silicosis does not currently have a cure.

Silicosis can also increase your chance of developing other serious medical conditions including tuberculosis, heart failure and arthritis, even for years after working around silica. 

If you believe you have been exposed to silica particles for long periods of time and suffer from the following symptoms, you should seek medical advice.

  • a persistent cough
  • persistent shortness of breath
  • weakness and tiredness