It is estimated that the construction industry is one of the largest sectors worldwide. In 2018, it contributed £117 billion to the UK economy. In 2019, 4.1% of the US gross domestic product was generated by value-added of the sector.

While a significant economic contributor, construction is also considered a high-risk industry due to the many health and safety risks that few other industries share. 

Dust exposure is one of these occupational health hazards. Construction sites produce vast volumes of invisible and fine material dust which can contain known carcinogens and silica.

Silica, often referred to as quartz, is a natural mineral found in soil, sand, concrete, masonry, rock, and granite, particularly within construction sites and quarries. When working on these materials, the crystalline silica is released as very fine dust.

What is respirable crystalline silica dust?

As a common substance found in most rocks, sand, clay, and bricks and concrete, silica is also used as a filler in some plastics. These materials create dust when cut, sanded, drilled, or carved in the workplace, which is called respirable crystalline silica (RCS). Too small to see, this dust may be fine enough to breathe in and can become embedded deep in the lungs which can cause serious harm to health such as silicosis, which is one of the oldest known industrial diseases. Silicosis makes breathing more difficult and increases the risk of lung infections. Silicosis usually follows RCS exposure over many years. Extremely high exposure levels can lead to rapidly ill health, increasing the risk of other diseases such as lung disease and lung cancer. It only takes a small amount of airborne silica dust to create a health hazard.

OSHA has estimated that approximately 1.85 million workers are currently exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in construction workplaces. More than 500,000 of these workers are likely being exposed to silica levels greater than OSHA's proposed permissible exposure limit.

People who work in the following industries are particularly at risk:

  • Silica dust exposure can happen through occupational activities: 
  • Laying ballast
  • Stoneworking
  • Cutting concrete or paving materials
  • Tunnelling, Excavating
  • Sandblasting
  • Sweeping up

How can you reduce exposure to silica dust?

It is essential to limit exposure to silica dust, particularly within a commercial environment where exposure can be high, as over-exposure can be potentially fatal.

However, not doing anything to clean contaminated clothing and skin once exposed is the worst possible outcome for the company and its workers. This is because workers wear contaminated clothing on their work breaks and on their way home from work – resulting in unnecessary and increased exposure for them and all around them. A worker can be forgiven for their lack of knowledge and awareness. Still, there should be no excuse for a company to ignore the problem, as they are ultimately responsible for their personnel's health and safety.

Is there a safer solution for removal?

When removing silica dust, blower-driven air has been shown to provide a safer and highly effective means of removing fibres, dust and water from people, surfaces, and environments, in contrast to using compressed air, which can be very dangerous.

Using blower-driven air, the JetBlack Safety range of personnel Cleaning Booths can provide a safer and more convenient personnel clean-down solution. What's more, the product range has been designed as an easy-to-use alternative to compressed air, as the low pressure, high-velocity air produced poses no threat to safety. It can be directed at almost any part of the body. This gives organisations peace of mind and users a safer solution for all de-dusting operations.

The JetBlack Safety Cleaning Booth is particularly suited to agitating and removing stone and cement dust from employees' work clothes; a process which typically takes no longer than 30 seconds. The dust is then safely extracted away from the user and collected in the HEPA H14 extractor.