By Justin Stewart

Crystalline silica exposure poses a serious threat to thousands of workers employed in high-risk jobs, including building demolition. Demolition workers may be exposed to a number of different hazards, including noise, vibration, and respirable crystalline silica, or RCS. According to OSHA, more than two million U.S. workers are exposed to RCS in over 600,000 workplaces. Silica is a common mineral found in construction materials such as sand, stone, concrete, brick, and mortar. Workers can be exposed to silica during tasks like abrasive blasting, foundry work, stonecutting, rock drilling, quarry work, and tunneling. The silica dust particles produced during tasks like these are fine enough that they can easily be inhaled and travel deep into workers’ lungs.

Breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease. Silica exposure also puts workers at risk of developing lung cancer and other potentially debilitating respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease. By taking simple precautions for dust-producing tasks and by implementing exposure control methods and effective air sampling, employers can limit silica exposures. These are proactive steps to protect the work force and adhere to OSHA’s standard on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica in construction.

Setting the Standard for a Safer Workplace
A new crystalline silica standard for construction, 29 CFR 1926.1153, was introduced by OSHA in 2016. It requires employers to limit worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica and to take other steps to protect workers. In accordance with the standard, employers can either use a water delivery or ventilation control to capture or suppress dust, or measure workers’ exposure to silica to independently decide which dust controls would work best to limit exposures in the workplace to the permissible exposure limit. Ultimately, the standard needs to be taken seriously by employers who could otherwise be faced with the consequence of a substantial violation penalty. Silica dust exposure is serious, as is OSHA about cutting down on workplace violations for exposure control negligence. The introduction of this standard also included a new fine schedule, where for the first time in 25 years OSHA increased monetary penalties for violations:
Measuring Exposure to Respirable Silica Dust
Demolition Operations