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4 tips to minimize the dangers of dust inhalation on the job

Jim Boone, a Ferguson Expert

by Jim Boone


In a decision that is estimated to save over 600 worker lives every year,* the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, passed new legislation in 2016 that will limit worker exposure to crystalline silica dust. The construction industry was the most heavily impacted by the new legislation and was given a September 23, 2017 deadline for compliance. This decision is supported by the fact that silica is a known carcinogen and that 2 million of the 2.3 million workers exposed to silica dust are construction workers according to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC. The same source also estimates that the new legislation will prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis every year, which is the disease most closely associated with silica dust inhalation.

What can I do to minimize the dangers of silica dust inhalation?

The first step to reducing the amount of silica dust in the air is to following OSHA’s specific safety and health regulations, which vary depending on the equipment being used and the type of work being done. Additional silica dust safety best practices include:

  1. Be aware of material containing silica.

    Knowing which materials contain silica will help you avoid inhaling the dust when working with it. Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in quartz. Products made from quartz that contain silica include:

    • Concrete and
      concrete blocks

    • Stone
      and bricks

    • Glass and ceramic material

    • Certain types of paint and coatings

    Crushing, abrading, drilling and grinding items made from these products releases silica dust into the air. Because these materials are commonly found on construction sites, it is critical that construction workers use the appropriate dust extraction equipment depending on the type of tool being used for a job.


    Find the right dust extractors to go with your tools >>

  2. Always wear the appropriate protective apparel.

    Providing workers with the right personal protective equipment and apparel is a key part of preventing exposure to silica dust. Respiratory masks are a primary piece of safety equipment required by OSHA for work involving materials containing silica. Other suggested protective apparel includes:


    Respirator masks are essential in preventing silica dust exposure

    After the work is done, wash or dispose of the used protective equipment to prevent silica dust particulates from spreading.

    Pro tip: The right fit makes a difference when it comes to the effectiveness of protective apparel. See how to choose the right respirator mask and use our guide to find work gloves in your size.

  3. Pay attention to the amount of time spent working around silica dust.

    The more time you spend in areas where silica dust levels are high, the more you are exposing your lungs to particles that can cause silicosis and the other diseases listed above. OSHA has different dust extraction equipment requirements depending on whether a shift involving work on material containing silica dust is four hours or eight hours. For this reason, it is important to closely monitor the time each worker is exposed to silica.

    Bonus tip: Do not allow your crew to consume food or beverages in areas with high silica dust levels. Make sure that breaks are taken away from areas where work is being conducted to limit additional exposure.

  4. Communicate the hazards to your crew.

    Communication is a critical part of preventing most hazards on the jobsite, including silica dust inhalation. Make sure your crew knows of the health risks associated with silica dust, which materials contain silica, and what type of work is more likely to create a risk of exposure. Developing a hazard communication plan and informing your crew of the dangers of dust inhalation could save someone’s life.

    Bonus tip: Hang the appropriate safety markers and signage to indicate areas in which silica dangers are present, and permit access only to workers who are trained on silica dust safety.

What are the other diseases associated with silica dust?

In addition to silicosis, there are several other disease and health conditions that can as a result of long-term silica dust inhalation. These diseases range from mild to severe, with some being fatal illnesses. They include:

  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic renal failure
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer

As mentioned above, taking the appropriate safety precautions is the key method for preventing all of the diseases associated with silica dust inhalation.

Trade professionals in the construction industry trust for our offering of dust management equipment, tools and safety supplies. Visit Safety Matters to read tips to help you protect your crew and ensure compliance with safety regulations.

*According to the Centers for Disease Control.

Jim Boone, a Ferguson Expert
Jim Boone

Jim is a U.S. Navy veteran who has specialized in the tool, fastener and safety product industry for over 10 years. His expert level of knowledge empowers tradespeople to work with increased safety and efficiency by helping them find the right tools and equipment for the job.