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How to Manage Silica Exposure in Your Workplace

Did you know that merely standing on a road while it is being repaired can cause over-exposure to silica? It’s something you may not notice now, but you will later on when you’re paying for it. In the past 10 years, Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Board accepted 576 claims for probable/confirmed silicosis, lung cancer, bronchitis, and emphysema. Some of these claims were related to silica exposure. [1] So what can you do to protect your workers and your company? Develop a silica exposure control plan that includes these types of measures:

Engineering controls

Reduce airborne silica by eliminating or substituting another substance in its place. Use metal shot and grit or sawdust instead. If you are in construction and are working with concrete pillars, the wetting method (spraying the rock with water) can help control dust.

Administrative controls

Intervene in the path between the worker and the chemical itself. Ventilate or use airflow to direct dust away from the worker, and use barrier or enclosure systems to restrict access and contain the work area.

Worker controls

Workers who don’t want to wear protective equipment add to the problem. Educate them on the dangers of not wearing a respirator. The equipment also needs to fit properly, or it won’t work. It is also important to provide your at-risk workers with medical surveillance, which includes regular pulmonary function testing and chest x-rays to measure the health impacts of silica exposure. You don’t need to take this all on yourself. Our team at DriverCheck can help. We offer respirator fit testing and medical surveillance programs, ensuring workers are tested when they need to be.

There is no one size-fits-all solution to managing silica exposure. It depends on how the dust is generated, work site conditions, and other factors. That said, some measures can reduce short term exposure by up to 95 percent. [2] If there’s something you are doing to effectively manage this hazard in your workplace, share it with us here! If you have any questions about exposures and the limits in Canada, feel free to get in touch.

[1] Alberta Local Section of the American Industrial Hygiene Association. (2012) Dangerous Dust: Exposure to Crystalline Silica in Alberta. Government of Alberta.

[2] Occupational Health and Safety Administration. (2009). Controlling Silica Exposures in Construction. Department of Labour – United States of America.