If you're just getting your start in the demolition industry at a place like Varner Hauling & Grading, you may not be aware of the risks of silica exposure on the job site. Exposure to crystalline silica dust can cause a condition known as silicosis, which is a severe, disabling lung disease. Silicosis is progressive, and can prove fatal in some cases. Understanding what silica is and the best practices to avoid exposure on the job site is essential from the very beginning of your demolition career. Here's a look at what you should know.
What Exactly is Silica?
Silica is a core component of granite, sand, rock and soil. It is also commonly used as a blasting agent. Since it reduces to dust, you may not even know you were exposed to it. Symptoms of silicosis often don't appear until about a decade of exposure, so the more proactive you are about protection now, the less risk you'll have.
How Do You Avoid Silicosis?
The best way to avoid silicosis if you're working in demolition is to protect yourself from silica exposure. There are a few key things that you can do to protect yourself from exposure to silica on the job site.
- Proper Ventilation – Always have sufficient exhaust ventilation in your blasting cabinets, and always use the cabinets.
- Safe Blasting Materials – Invest in blasting materials that don't use silica as a component. With naturally-occurring silica already in the rock and soil, you're just increasing your exposure risk by using blasting materials that also contain it.
- Careful Dust Removal – Don't use compressed air to remove silica dust. It just blows the dust around and causes more widespread exposure. Instead, use water hoses and vacuums fitted with high-efficiency filters.
- Proper Sweeping – Never dry sweep an area that may have silica in the dust. Instead, use a wet sweeping technique so that you keep the airborne dust at a minimum.
- Wet Cutting and Drilling – Don't use dry cutting blades or drill bits when you're working in a demolition zone. Invest in wet cutting blades and wet drill bits so that you can use water to keep the dust particles at bay.
- Safety Equipment Requirements – Make sure that you're wearing a mask that's approved for silica protection every time you're on the site. Don't permit any food or drink in the work area, and ensure that you're thoroughly washing your hands, face and other exposed areas immediately when you leave the work area for breaks, lunch or at the end of your shift.