Slate is a natural stone material that has many uses. Its distinct appearance makes it very easy to recognize after you become familiar with it.
What Is Slate Dust
Slate dust is simply the airborne particles that result from the break up of natural slate. It can occur in a number of ways. For example, fabricating slate generates a lot of dust. But what are the particles composed of? You might be surprised.
One of the minerals in slate is quartz. Therefore, slate contains silica (quartz is composed of silica) which is one of the materials about which OSHA cautions professionals about dust exposure. As a result, it is important to protect workers form slate dust. We will look at why that is the case a bit later in the article, but first, let's look at how slate is used.
Uses for Slate
Slate is a durable natural stone and it is used for a number of interesting and diverse applications. Some uses for slate include the following:
- Roofing Tiles
- Siding Panels
- Stepping Stones
- Billiards Table Tops
Its unique and distinct rustic look is what makes slate so desirable to people of all sorts. Whether a designer is creating a rustic style project or a home owner just prefers using rugged, natural materials for the decor, slate is one of the options that many opt for.
Stone Work and Slate Dust
Anytime you use a natural stone material there is going to be dust that is generated. Professionals that work with natural slate do all sorts of things to it. Normal operations that are performed on stone by artisans carry the potential for hazards.
Hazards of Dust From Slate
Since slate contains silica, it brings a host of hazards if the dust generated when it is being worked is not controlled properly. What are some of the potential health problems from breathing slate dust? SOme of the health issues associated with respirable crystalline silica that is in slate dust include:
- Lung Cancer
- Lung Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Scarring of the Lungs
As you can see from that list, the results of high exposure levels to slate dust can have negative consequences. It should be mentioned that exposure doesn't occur from being in the presence of a finished slate product. Rather, we are talking about frequent exposure to harmful construction dust (airborne particles that contain silica); slate dust being one of the many. So what are the causes of slate dust?
What Causes Slate Dust
Slate dust is caused by a number of things. When the stone worked it generates very small breathable particles. This slate dust is potentially harmful to people that inhale the very small particles of silica. But what types of work generate slate dust? Let's look at a few.
Cutting Slate Generates Dust
One task that generates slate dust is cutting it. Anytime a material is cut, particles are generated that could become airborne. If the cutting is done in a dry environment, the particles become airborne immediately. If the environment is wet, the particles may not become airborne right away. But eventually, when the water evaporates, the particles can become airborne. So, cutting slate causes dust.
Drilling Slate Emits Dust
Like cutting slate, drilling holes in the material also generates dust. Using dry bits to bore holes into tiles, panels, or shingles made of slate is another operation from which slate dust originates.
Dust From Grinding Slate
Finally, grinding stone surfaces is a very useful technique to many artisans. Using a grinder with a diamond turbo blade, a stone professional can cut segments from a slate tile or panel and shape the material in desirable ways. however, using grinders on slate also creates dust.
Suffice it to say that any time you remove material from a man made surface or a natural stone you will spawn a dust cloud if the tool and the material are dry. So what are some ways that craftsmen manage to protect themselves form these dust clouds?
Controlling Slate Dust
Dust from working with slate is controllable in a number of ways. Each artisan will choose one or more of the methods that we are getting ready to discuss. Using these techniques for controlling slate dust in tandem or in multiples will yield the best results. Let's look at some of the slate dust protection techniques.
Personal Protective Equipment
One of the categories of slate dust protection practices that is used by professionals that work with slate is wearing PPE. Utilizing a mask or a respirator while cutting, grinding, or drilling slate is an effective way to protect oneself from breathing slate dust. But as mentioned above, it is best to use this method of protection with another technique. This is because, even though the craftsman is protected, others in the vicinity may be breathing in the dust that is generated by the tools.
Dust Collection Systems
Another class of dust control utilized by slate artisans is making use of a dust collection system for slate. Using a construction dust collection system to draw the particle contaminated air into a filtering mechanism that removes the particles and returns the cleaned air back into the work environment. This method reduces the amount of particulate matter in the breathable air of the work environment.
Dust extraction equipment is also helpful for removing dust from a work area. Like the method just mentioned, dust extraction machines draw the particulate rich air into a filtering system that separates the particles from the clean air. The difference is in the where they draw the air from. The extractors draw the air and particles from right off the immediate area around the tool being used. An arm reaches right up to the area around the tool and draws the generated dust as it is created.
In the end, making use of a dust control system will offer a safer work environment. Slate is just one of the materials that generate silica dust that has the potential to be harmful. By putting a dust capturing system in place that makes use of multiple techniques, the process of working with slate and other natural stone will yield a reduction in risk.