Limiting Silica Dust Exposure

Posted by Melissa Hall in #YHSafetyTips, Sep 19, 2018

OSHA has recently changed the standard for crystalline silica exposure in the workplace.

A common mineral found in the earth’s crust, crystalline silica is found in a variety of materials including sand, stone, concrete and mortar. Crystalline silica is also used to make a range of products including glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks and artificial stone.

Respirable crystalline silica, 100 times smaller than ordinary sand that you’ll find at the beach, is created by cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling or crushing rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar.

OSHA estimates that approximately 2.3 million Americans are exposed to silica dust at work, through activities including sandblasting, sawing brick or concrete, sanding or drilling concrete walls, and manufacturing brick, ceramic products and stone countertops.

Risks of inhaling crystalline silica particles include an increased chance of developing diseases including lung cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can eventually lead to disability and even death.

OSHA’s silica standard for construction is designed to help protect workers from exposure to respirable silica dust. The previous standard limited silica dust particles to 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an average of 8 hours, but in June 2017 OSHA implemented a new standard that limits expose to 50 micrograms over the same period.

To help control exposure, contractors are required to do the following as part of the new standard:

  • Develop a written silica exposure plan, designate an employee to implement the plan and train workers on how to limit exposure
  • Adjust housekeeping practices to maximize control of silica dust
  • Provide medical exams, including lung function tests and chest X-rays, every three years to all employees that are exposed to silica dust at least 30 days each year
  • Maintain records of workers’ exposure to silica and any related medical treatments

Employers that do not comply with the new standard are subject to a maximum fine of $12,675 for a first violation and up to $126,749 for a repeated or willful violation.

How You Can Help Protect Workers

Employers can help control exposure by using dust control methods including using a vacuum to control silica dust before it enters the air, wetting down saw blades to help reduce the amount of dust that enters the air, or isolating dust creating jobs from other work areas.

In most cases, workers should also wear respirators with a minimum APF of 10 when working indoors with materials containing crystalline silica, and in certain cases respirators are required outdoors as well.


All exposure control methods and required respiratory protection are outlined in OSHA’s “Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction.”

Once the new standard has been fully implemented, OSHA estimates it will save approximately 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year.

If you haven’t read last week’s post on Mobile Cart Safety, read it here.

Recent Posts
Mobile Material Handling Cart Safety
Mobile Material Handling Cart Safety
September 12, 2018
By: Melissa HallRead Blog
Food Production Safety
Food Production Safety
September 5, 2018
By: Melissa HallRead Blog
Work Appropriate Clothing
Work Appropriate Clothing
August 29, 2018
By: Melissa HallRead Blog
Facebook Feed
Twitter Feed