Beta Version of Silica Monitoring Software Now Available for Use in Mines
The NIOSH Mining Program has developed new software intended to more effectively monitor occupational exposure to hazardous respirable crystalline silica. The beta version of the Field Analysis of Silica Tool, or FAST, works with commercially available Fourier transform infrared analyzers to determine a worker’s exposure to RCS dust. According to NIOSH, the key to controlling RCS at mines is the ability to quickly assess the degree of exposure.  “Traditional methods require mines to send samples to a commercial lab for analysis and wait for the results to be returned,” NIOSH’s press release reads. “Because the conditions in mines change constantly, however, immediate RCS results are needed to establish when and where high concentrations exist and to ensure that . . . they do not persist across shifts.” FAST provides detailed results immediately following a worker’s shift. Mines that use the FAST software in combination with NIOSH’s monitoring approach, which uses portable Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy analyzers and dust sampling cassettes at the mine site, can address the source of exposure more quickly by eliminating the wait time between collecting a sample and receiving the lab results. According to NIOSH, its monitoring approach does not degrade the dust sampling cassette, so mines can still send samples for lab testing to verify the RCS results. The results generated by FAST are intended to be used immediately to identify high-exposure areas and associated work tasks at mine sites. NIOSH has not yet completed testing on the FAST software, but the agency considers it to be fully functional. NIOSH states that respirable crystalline silica results from this beta version of FAST are accurate if a sample is collected in a coal mine. Future releases of FAST will offer improved accuracy for commodity types besides coal and will have the potential to be used beyond the mining industry, according to NIOSH. The beta version of FAST is available from the NIOSH mining website. For more information, read the NIOSH press release.