Exposure to Silica Dust has Serious Health Consequences

Exposure to Silica Dust has Serious Health Consequences

Here’s how to protect yourself against potential exposure 

Construction workers face many hazards on the job with power tools, ladders, working from height and loud machinery to name a few. While these are all obvious safety risks in the construction industry, one of the more concerning health risks isn’t talked about often enough. Did you know 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in over 600,000 workplaces?1 Respirable crystalline silica, also known as silica dust, is made up of small particles created by blasting, cutting, drilling, sanding or griding materials like stone, sand, brick, concrete or mortar. The most common form of silica dust is created from quartz with the natural material containing about 90% silica. Silica dust is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, so it’s possible to breath it in without even realizing it.2

The Dangers of Silica 

Inhaling silica dust can cause particles to get trapped in the lungs and cause inflammation and scarring. Often, construction workers are diagnosed with silicosis which affects the lung’s ability to take in oxygen and can result in permanent lung damage that is incurable and sometimes fatal. Silicosis is not immediate; however, it is progressive and can occur after 10 years of exposure to silica dust but can also show up much earlier if heavier exposures occur. Exposure to silica dust can cause increased risk of other serious diseases like tuberculosis and lung cancer. About 230 people develop lung cancer as a result of silica dust at work, so it is imperative to wear high quality respiratory protection while on the job.2

Some of the top job sites where the highest number of workers are exposed are residential construction, poured concrete foundation and commercial construction. Combined, over 50,000 workers in those industries have been exposed to silica dust.3

OSHA Standards

OSHA’s standard CFR 1926.1153 on crystalline silica dust was put in place to limit worker’s exposure and provide additional protection. This rule requires employers to limit exposure to silica dust and take even further steps to protect workers. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for crystalline silica dust is 50 micrograms per cubic meter which is roughly equivalent to a small sugar packet spread out over an entire football field. So, for every meter of cubic air the worker breathes, he or she should inhale no more than 50 mcg of silica, averaged over an eight-hour shift. Employers must use dust controls when silica dust exposure levels exceed the PEL and provide proper respiratory protection when dust controls cannot lower the PEL. Dust control methods include using water to keep the dust from spreading or using ventilation to capture dust. When those methods fail and the PEL is exceeded then it’s time to bring in the respiratory protection, but it never hurts to practice both layers of protection, simultaneously. 

How to Protect Against Silica Dust  

As OSHA requires employers to lower the PEL or provide NIOSH-certified respiratory protection, it can be difficult to measure the levels of silica on job sites. It is best practice to wear a respirator when performing tasks that involve cutting, grinding, blasting or drilling to help ensure that silica isn’t being inhaled, even if using water or ventilation to cut down on exposure; It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Saf-T-Fit is a high-quality, NIOSH-certified respirator that helps protect against silica inhalation. They are the most versatile line of disposable respirators, allowing you to choose your level of protection and size. They offer a large range of protection levels, including N95 all the way to the P100 rated respirator that has a 99.97% filter efficiency. NIOSH recommends half-piece particulate respirators with N95 filters for airborne silica particles and OSHA also recommends filter efficiency no lower than a 95 rating. While Saf-T-Fit is your best option to protect against silica, it can also be a great option if working with chemicals, painting vapors, welding fumes, smoke, and even mold. 

The unique size offerings fit a variety of face shapes and sizes, helping keep a tight seal all day. Saf-T-Fit is the only disposable respirator that comes in comes three sizes including small, medium/large, and extra-large, helping to make sure that no matter what, your respirator will stay put. When battling airborne particles, you don’t want your respirator to be loose or risk it moving about your face. A key feature is the “boomerang” seal that is embedded inside the mask instead of just being glued on. This provides a more secure seal while also providing additional comfort. The nose clips are color coordinated on the outside of the mask to help you quickly ensure that you are wearing the correct size. While it can sometimes be uncomfortable to wear a respirator all day, the integrated humidity resistant filter on Saf-T-Fit repels moisture making it long lasting in tough environments, even on a hot day. 

Honeywell has a long-standing expertise in respiratory protection and a deep understanding of worker needs. We continue to engineer the highest-quality respiratory protection solutions that are not only compliant, but also provide comfort, ease-of-use, durability, enhanced work productivity and most importantly, safety. To learn more about Safe-T-Fit molded cup disposable respirators: Click here.


1 OSHA https://www.osha.gov/silica-crystalline

2 Cancer Council https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/workplace-cancer/silica-dust 

3 NCBI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7814506/