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Four Things to Know About Crystalline Silica

Working with and/or around stone surfaces as well as other hard materials from which dust is generated brings with it the need for a variety of knowledge. Of course there is the required understanding of how the materials respond to tools used for drilling, cutting, and grinding the material. And there is also the need for understanding a measure of physics too. After all, lifting and handling an awkwardly shaped ton of rock is definitely easier if a bit ingenuity is applied. But in this article we are going to talk a little bit about another area in which stone professionals must be knowledgeable. It has to do with safety. For the next few paragraphs, we will talk about four things to know about crystalline silica if you are working in the stone industry. You may be surprised to find out that the safety of employees could be at risk with every breath they take.

1: What Crystalline Silica Is

Crystalline silica occurs naturally. It is a mineral that is ubiquitously distributed throughout the earth's crust. One of the most common forms this mineral is found in is quartz. Crystalline silica is in sand, rock, and stone to one degree or another. Because of this mineral's widespread existence in so many components, it is also found in man-made materials such as the following:

  • Concrete
  • Pavers
  • Brick
  • Mortar
  • Cinder Blocks
  • Landscape Stone

As you are no doubt aware, all of the above materials are formed, shaped, cut, sawed, quarried, and drilled using tools designed for working stone. These tasks and the equipment that perform them generate particulates, or little, tiny, pieces of the material that float in the air. And because the crystalline silica is in these very small particles, it too is floating around in the air.

2: Crystalline Silica Matters to Your Health

As common as crystalline silica is, it would be easy to think that it is just like all the other dust in the air. However, inhalation and over-exposure to these particles that are invisible to the naked eye, brings with it potential health issues. For example, the following medical designations or conclusions have been made by various agencies:

  • IARC - Crystalline Silica is carcinogenic to humans.
  • U.S. National Toxicology Program - Crystalline Silica is carcinogenic to humans.
  • NIOSH (US) - Recommended that respirable crystalline silica be considered a potential occupational carcinogen.

As you can see from the above list each agency has determined that crystalline silica is carcinogenic. Why does that designation matter?

3: Why it is Important to You

The reason the potential health implications of crystalline silica is important is simple. Exposure to these particles can be minimized. Responsible compliance by employers and workers reduces exposure to crystalline silica. By providing training, instruction, and the proper dust minimizing equipment and PPE to workers, employers contribute to reducing the exposure.

Workers contribute as well. They do this by complying with the training and instruction, wearing the PPE provided, and following the instruction for operating and using the equipment provided.

4: You can Minimize Exposure

By implementing some basic practices, employers and employees can work together to reduce the exposure to crystalline silica. The following lists of things to do and things to not do are some practical ways to minimize exposure.

The Do and Do Nots of Crystalline Silica

As we have seen in this article, there is good reason to be concerned with keeping your facility free of stone dust by several means, including water filtration systems. The responsible compliance with safety standards not only contribute to a safe shop but also provide better working conditions.