Silica can present several health risks if you don’t control silica dust exposure. In this blog, we look into silica dust, how it’s produced, its effects and how best to prevent exposure. You can learn more about our engineering control solutions on our Dust Extraction Systems page.
What is Silica Dust?
Silica is a natural substance in various amounts in most rocks, sands and clays. An example is sandstone, which contains more than 70% silica, whereas granite might contain 15-30%. Silica is commonly found in the construction industry as many construction materials include bricks, tiles, concrete and mortar.
The Percentage of Silica Found in Different Materials
As we briefly explained above, silica can be found in various materials. Sandstone is one of the most dangerous stones as it can contain more than 70% of silica. When working with sandstone, the risk of inhaling harmful silica dust increases substantially, potentially leading to health problems. However, sandstone isn’t the only material that contains significant levels of silica.
Below is a breakdown of the percentage of crystalline silica content that can be found in different materials:
- Sandstone, gritstone, quartzite – above 70%
- Mortar, concrete – 25-70%
- Shale – 40-60%
- China stone – up to 50%
- Granite – 20-45% (often 30%)
- Slate – 20-40%
- Ironstone – Up to 15%
- Basalt, dolerite – Up to 5%
- Limestone, chalk – Up to 5% (usually less than 2%)
- Marble – Up to 5% (can be higher if containing veins of crystalline silica)
If your business works with any of the above materials, it’s highly recommended that you invest in a silica dust extraction solution to prevent the spread of harmful dust to your employees.
How Is Silica Dust Produced In the Construction Industry?
Construction workers are often exposed to silica dust throughout a typical working day. The construction industry’s tasks that involve silica dust include: cutting, drilling, grinding, and polishing can create dust containing crystalline silica particles.
Health Effects From Silica Dust
The HSE construction dust regulations state that silica dust is a hazardous substance and describe it as the second most significant risk to construction workers, behind asbestos. Silica dust particles (the fine dust known as Respirable Crystalline Silica) can be fine enough to penetrate deep into the lungs. RCS is too fine to be seen by the human eye, so inhalation is inevitable whilst working in these dusty environments. Research has shown that long-term exposure to airborne contaminants can cause occupational diseases. Small amounts of silica can be hazardous if inhaled, causing asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and increasing the risk of lung disease or lung cancer.
According to the HSE’s latest data, published in the Health and Safety at Work: Summary Statistics for Great Britain 2020, it is estimated that there are 13,000 deaths each year estimated to be linked to past exposure at work, primarily to chemicals or dust, whilst there are also 12,000 lung disease deaths each year estimated to be linked to past exposures at work, 33% are attributed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
How To Control Silica Dust Exposure?
The HSE’s INDG463 – Control of Exposure to Silica Dust: A Guide for Employees guidance recommends controlling silica dust exposure with engineering controls, such as local exhaust ventilation (e.g. a silica dust extractor).
LEV systems (for example, a stone dust extractor) can control crystalline silica dust to capture airborne contaminants at-source. Providing it at-source prevents RCS from escaping into the worker’s breathing zone and the broader working environment. This will reduce the risk of crystalline silica exposure and workers’ inhalation. Auto Extract Systems offer comprehensive silica dust extractors to help make your working environment safe and dust-free. Learn more about at-source dust capture, extraction, filtration and the dangers of working with silica dust.
Finally, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should also be worn to help reduce the risk of RCS inhalation until outside the working area.
What Products Can Extract Silica Dust?
While you can take preventative measures to protect employees, such as personal protective equipment, it’s highly recommended that you extract harmful silica dust particulates from the environment before it has the chance to enter a person’s circulation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that industrial businesses use an adequate LEV system to safely remove silica dust from the air.
We offer a range of dust extraction systems that can remove all kinds of hazardous dust, including silica dust. Our product range includes everything from fixed systems to portable products and bespoke solutions. Examples of LEV systems you can use to eliminate silica dust include:
- Dust extraction arms
- Fine dust filter units
- Portable dust filter
- Direct connections
- Wet collectors
- Dust extraction booths
- Downdraught benches
To learn more about the best silica dust extraction solution for your business, please get in touch.
Do I Need Stone Dust Extraction?
Silica dust is a common hazard of working with stones, such as sandstone. You must protect your employees if you are a business that performs cutting and grinding processes with stone materials, such as a stone masonry workshop. As explained above, inhaling silica dust increases the risk of lung inflammation and scarring, leading to lung damage and long-term disease. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is taking a firm stance against employers who fail to implement adequate safety solutions, such as a silica dust extractor. A stone dust extraction system is one of the best ways to clean a workspace’s air, preventing harmful particulates from reaching workers. Stone dust extraction will safeguard your employer’s health and avoid hefty punishments such as significant fines.
Workplace Exposure Limits
Control measures must effectively keep exposure below the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) (0.1 mg/m3 respirable dust, averaged over 8 hours). Find out more about the WELs in our ‘Ultimate Guide: What are the Latest EH40 Workplace Exposure Limits?‘ article.
Why Choose Auto Extract Systems?
Auto Extract Systems is the UK’s leading LEV company. Over the last 20 years, we’ve helped thousands of businesses create pollution-free workplaces and avoid costly fees for intervention fines. If you work with stone that contains silica dust, get in touch today to learn more about how we can help you with stone dust extraction.
We are experts in all things LEV, we can help your business become COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulation 2002 compliant with a tailored LEV solution. We provide comprehensive design, installation, maintenance and certification services across various industry sectors.
Request Your FREE LEV Site Assessment Today!
We’ll call to arrange a convenient time and date to visit your site. We’ll analyse your working processes and assess the substances used and the contaminants generated. We’ll work out how best to control the dust and fume in a way that aligns with your COSHH risk assessment. Next, we’ll design a comprehensive LEV system that adheres to HSG258 guidance and send this to you via email.
We’ll do all this to ensure we fully understand your dust and fume extraction requirements and help you to provide a pollution-free workplace!
This is a fantastic service we do for thousands of businesses throughout the UK and Ireland every year. We work with various industries, from manufacturing, industrial, woodworking, pharmaceutical and automotive workshops to schools, colleges and military establishments.
Request your FREE, no-obligation LEV site assessment today!