When I walk onto a worksite and see workers looking like they just had a fight with flour – I don’t laugh. In fact, I feel angry, disappointed and frustrated – on behalf of the workers’ families who will have to live with the long-term consequences of poor decision making.
That’s because the white dusty faces come from silica dust, a basic component of sand and rock, and the best known and most abundant type of silica dust in the workplace comes from quartz.
Quartz is present in the following construction site materials, to name a few: concrete, brick, cement, drywall, mortar, sand, topsoil, fill dirt, asphalt, granite and Hardie Plank.
Inhaling silica dust can cause silicosis, a serious and irreversible lung disease. Silicosis can also lead to lung cancer. As soon as silica dust goes deep into the air sacs of your lungs, you cannot remove it and the dust affects your ability to take in and convert oxygen. You will experience shortness of breath, severe coughing and general body weakness, and these symptoms will get worse over time – as long as the exposure continues.
I see workers all the time who are chipping, sawing, grinding, crushing, loading, cutting, excavating, conducting demolition work, doing drywall sanding, without wearing proper protection, aka PPE. Common excuses include “I’m outside and the wind is taking the dust away”, I only have a couple of cuts to do”, and “I’m working in a well ventilated area.”
This faulty logic can be potentially lethal because no matter how well the wind may appear to be blowing the dust, or how well you think the ventilation may be; there will always be small, unseen particles that will enter your lungs and remain there for the rest of your life. It’s not the single exposure – it’s the accumulation of many single exposures over time. To use the “couple of cuts” analogy – you could experience “death by a thousand cuts.”
To reduce the risks, you should always have and follow a task specific silica dust control plan. In fact, these plans are required by legislation.
I’m happy to help you develop one – so that you can breathe easy!