Silicosis: Learn The Facts
Do you work in construction or do abrasive blasting?
If so, here are some important facts you need to know:
Since 1968, more than 14,000 workers in the U.S. have died from a disease called silicosis. · In the U.S. each year more than 200 workers die with this disease while hundreds more become disabled.
Many workers with silicosis are only in their thirties; some are as young as 22 years old. Many of them are unable to take care of themselves and their families.
Silicosis is not curable, but it is preventable. Learn the facts and know-how to protect yourself. Silicosis affects both your health and the welfare of your family.
Description of Silicosis
- Silicosis is a disabling and often fatal lung disease caused by breathing dust that has very small pieces of crystalline silica in it.
- Crystalline silica is found in concrete, masonry, sandstone, rock, paint, and other abrasives. The cutting, breaking, crushing, drilling, grinding, or abrasive blasting of these materials may produce fine silica dust.
- It can also be in soil, mortar, plaster, and shingles.
- The very small pieces of silica dust get in the air that you breathe and become trapped in your lungs.
- Even the very small pieces of dust that you cannot see will harm you. As the dust builds up in your lungs, the lungs are damaged and it becomes harder to breathe.
Are You Breathing Silica Dust?
If you do one of the following jobs, you are at risk for breathing silica dust:
- Removal of paint and rust with power tools
- Abrasive blasting of bridges, pipes, tanks and other painted surfaces especially while using silica sand
- Grinding mortar
- Demolition of concrete and masonry structures
- Abrasive blasting of concrete (many bridges and buildings are made of concrete)
- Crushing, loading, hauling, chipping, hammering, drilling and dumping of rock or concrete
- Chipping, hammering, drilling, sawing and grinding concrete or masonry
- Dry sweeping or pressurized air-blowing of concrete or dust; or jack hammering on various materials.
When you wear dusty clothing at home or in your car, you may be carrying silica dust that your family will breathe in!
Who Is At Risk?
Workers in the following occupations are at risk for developing silicosis:
- Highway and bridge construction and repair
- Building construction, demolition, and repair
- Abrasive blasting
- Masonry work
- Concrete finishing
- Drywall finishing
- Rock drilling
- Sand and gravel screening
- Rock crushing (for road base)
If you work near dust clouds like the ones in these photos, you might be exposed to silica. You may be exposed even when dust is not visible.
Types of Silicosis
There are three types of silicosis:
- Chronic silicosis: Usually occurs after 10 or more years of exposure to crystalline silica at low levels. This is the most common type of silicosis.
- Accelerated silicosis: Results from exposure to higher levels of crystalline silica and occurs 5 to 10 years after exposure.
- Acute silicosis: Can occur after only weeks or months of exposure to very high levels of crystalline silica. Death occurs within months. The lungs drown in their own fluids.
Symptoms may not appear in the early stages of chronic silicosis. In fact, chronic silicosis may go undetected for 15 to 20 years after exposure. As silicosis silica progresses, symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Severe cough
- Weakness Because the body’s ability to fight infections may be weakened by silica in the lungs, other illnesses (such as tuberculosis) may result and can cause:
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Chest pains
- Respiratory failure These symptoms can become worse over time, leading to death.
- Victims of silicosis are also at risk for getting lung infections such as tuberculosis (TB). TB is a disease that can be spread by coughing, sneezing, or talking around your spouse, children and other loved ones.
What Can I Do To Protect Myself And My Family?
Silicosis is a disabling and often fatal disease that prevents hundreds of workers from being able to care for their families. It could also prevent you from providing for your family. If your work causes you to breathe silica dust, there are things you can do to prevent silicosis from happening to you:
- Be aware of the health effects of breathing air that has silica dust in it.
- Avoid working in dust whenever possible.
- Know what causes silica dust at your workplace.
- Remember if there is no visible dust, you could be at risk.
- If there is visible dust, you are almost definitely at risk. Reduce the amount of silica dust by doing the following:
- Use water sprays and ventilation when working in confined structures. For example:
- Use a water hose to wet dust before it becomes airborne.
- Use saws that add water to the blade.
- Use drills that add water through the stem or have dust collection systems.
- Use blast cleaning machines or cabinets to control dust.
When water sprays and ventilation alone are not enough to reduce silica dust levels, your employer MUST provide you with a properly fitted and selected respirator (e.g. particulate filter or airline supplied air respirator) designated for protection against crystalline silica.
- Changes should not be made to the respirator.
- Workers who use tight-fitting respirators cannot have beards or moustaches as they do not let the respirator properly seal to the face.
- Take health (or lung screening) programs offered by your employer.
- Practice good personal hygiene at the workplace:
- Do not eat, drink, or use tobacco products in dusty areas.
- Wash hands and face before eating, drinking, or smoking outside dusty areas.
- Park cars where they will not be contaminated with silica.
- Change into disposable or washable work clothes at the worksite.
- Shower (if possible) and change into clean clothes before leaving the worksite to prevent contamination of other work areas, cars, and homes.
Who Is At Risk?
It is your employers legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace.
Your employer must make sure that you have the proper protective equipment for reducing silica dust levels; but, it’s up to you to use them!
Taking time to protect yourself on the job is worth it.
After all, nothing is more important than your health and the health of your family!
If you are a construction worker, you may be exposed to silica dust.
To protect you and your family, remember to follow these recommendations each and every time you may be exposed.
Silicosis IS NOT CURABLE, but it IS PREVENTABLE to live a long and healthy life, learn the facts and know-how to protect yourself and your family.
What Type Of Respirator Should I Use?
Choosing the right respirator that fits you snugly is important for protecting your health. Your employer will help you choose the type of respirator you need.
The type of respirator you need depends on:
- The amount of silica dust to which you are exposed
- The kind of work you need to do.
- If you must do abrasive blasting, use only a type CE pressure-demand abrasive blasting respirator (see photo 7 on the next two pages).
Respirators used for protection from crystalline silica should not cause undue discomfort. If you have problems with your respirators, report them immediately to your supervisor!
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