More than two million workers in the construction industry have been exposed to silica in the workplace. Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS), when inhaled, is the leading cause of silicosis, a deadly disease that can lie dormant in your body for 10-30 years before you exhibit symptoms.
Short of a complete double lung transplant, silicosis is both a chronic and incurable condition. Which means there is an epidemic of silicosis on the horizon for more than two million U.S. construction workers, if they have been exposed to RSC without proper PPE (personal protective equipment).
Until 2017, that was almost everyone on a site where concrete was being cut, cored, or drilled, bricks and stone were being cut and laid, or granite and marble were being installed.
That means some two million construction workers are currently at real risk of developing this deadly disease. When you add cigarette smoking to RCS, it increases the likelihood of silicosis or related lung diseases by 21%-81%.
“A total of 2,814 deaths occurred during 315,772.9 person-years of follow-up. Significantly elevated mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, non-malignant respiratory disease and lung cancer was observed among silica-exposed workers, while elevated mortality from non-malignant respiratory disease and lung cancer was observed among smokers. Combined exposure to silica dust and cigarette smoking elevated the proportion of mortality and accounted for 21.2, 76.0, 35.7 and 81.4% of all causes, non-malignant respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer, respectively.”
– Environmental Health, Issue 17, May 9, 2018
What are the current standards of jobsite safety to protect against RCS and silicosis?
OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, first addressed the growing problem with respirable silica dust and PPE on jobsites in 2016 with 29 C.F.R. 1910§1053. Enforcement of those new regulations began in September of 2017. Those rules required that workers’ RCS exposure be no more than the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 μg/m3 (50 micrograms per cubic meter of air) over an eight-hour TWA (time weighted average). That standard is still in place for construction sites as of 2023.
Further, it is the employer’s (general contractor, owner, etc.) responsibility to monitor employees’ silica exposure over an eight-hour period, and to provide proper PPE (respirators, etc.) to workers who are being exposed above the baseline limit.
How does OSHA’s enhanced enforcement declaration for RCS/Silicosis in 2023 change construction site safety rules?
The short answer is that it doesn’t, really. The enhanced enforcement measures were added to protect those who cut, core, mill, work with, or sell bricks and stone because people who work around materials that produce RCS are not limited to construction sites. Those involved in installing granite countertops, for example, or selling stone and brick to contractors, are also at risk for developing RCS and require PPE and statistical reporting to help keep them safe as well. It does tighten reporting requirements across all industries that require silica exposure, which could provide greater safety for workers.
What is the recommended PPE to protect you from breathing silica dust?
OSHA recommends respirators with an assigned protection factor (APF) of at least 10. These respirators, sometimes called dust masks, are NIOSH-certified (National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health) filtering facepiece respirators and are recommended to be worn whenever anyone is cutting, coring, or drilling cured concrete, stone, bricks, or other material that produces silica dust.
Additionally, when cutting concrete, stone, or other RCS-producing materials, utilizing equipment with an integrated water delivery system is recommended to tamp down the dust before it becomes airborne.
How can you keep your jobsite and workers safe when working with concrete?
Regardless of how conscientious a general contractor, company, or individual is about safeguarding against silicosis, when more than two million lives are currently at risk and millions more potentially taking on that risk daily, the only answer is consistent, continual, reinforced safety education.
That’s why GPRS is the main sponsor of Concrete Sawing & Drilling Safety Week (CSDSW), where we send our concrete experts out to jobsites and company offices throughout the United States to educate the concrete construction workforce on the hazards associated with silica dust exposure, pinch points, kickbacks, and other serious risks.
This year’s CSDSW runs January 29 – February 2, 2024 and slots are filling up fast. Our concrete safety experts can provide a complimentary lunch-n-learn session for your crew if you schedule your program with us by clicking the image below:
To date, GPRS has trained over 20,000 construction workers on how to work more safely around concrete and protect against the spectre of silicosis. We visited more than 150 sites in 2023 alone – providing up-to-date information on best practices, OSHA guidelines, and breakfast or lunch for the work crew.
So, wear your PPE, use water infusing cutting tools, and schedule your CSDSW talk today!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the new OSHA rule for silica dust?
There has been no specific rule change for silica since 29 C.F.R. 1910§1053 went into effect in 2017. In 2023, OSHA issued an enhanced enforcement directive specifically targeted toward those who work in sales, warehousing, transport, or milling of stone, granite, and brick to include those workers under 29 C.F.R, and add additional reporting requirements for employers.
Learn how to protect your crews from silicosis during Concrete Sawing & Drilling Safety Week.
What is the best protection against silica dust?
Personal respirators with an APF rating of 10 or above, gloves, hats, and coveralls are recommended when working around silica dust. Limiting your exposure to RCS is an important factor in reducing your risk of silicosis.
GPRS can send a concrete expert to your job site with complimentary safety training as part of CSDSW. Register here.
What are the 3 major methods to protecting yourself from silica hazards?
According to silica-safe.org, the top three ways to protect yourself on the job from respirable crystalline silica (RCS) are:
- Use water-infusing cutting tools to "control the dust at its source
- Use tools with vacuum attachments and HEPA filters to pull silica dust from the air
- Wear a respirator with a minimum 10 APF rating
- BONUS If you work in abrasive blasting & sandblasting, you need a special Type CE respirator
Let GPRS bring concrete safety and silicosis awareness to your jobsite Jan. 29- Feb 2. Register for your complimentary safety education here.