Silicosis Toolbox Talk

Learn about the dangers of silicosis, the symptoms, and how to prevent exposure to silica.

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Silicosis Safety Talk

With all the talk about silica dust and the dangers, OSHA has put out new regulations concerning silica dust and overexposure to it. This in turn has put more focus on the health hazards of silica dust by employers as well as employees. It is important to understand what silica dust is, how you can be exposed and the health effects it may have on your body.

What is Silica?

Silica is one of the most common minerals that you can find in the earth's crust. Some common materials of silica are glass, beach sand, silicone, and granite. There are two forms, crystalline and noncrystalline. When it comes to health concerns, crystalline silica is the bigger worry of the two. The most common form of crystalline silica is quartz. Quartz can be found in sand, gravel, clay, granite diatomaceous earth, and many other forms of rock. Non-crystalline silica is found in glass, silicon carbide, and silicone.

When talking about silica exposure it is referring to crystalline silica or quartz. Construction workers could be exposed to silica when they are cutting, grinding, drilling, sanding, mixing, and demolishing materials that could contain silica on a job site. The size of the silica particles determines the amount of the risk to your health. Since silica particles are airborne, the smaller particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs where they cause damage. The larger particles do not pose much of a threat because they can not be inhaled.

What Is Silicosis?

Silicosis is a form of lung disease that is caused by inhaling silica dust. Over time, silica can build up in the lungs and breathing passages, which in turn leads to scarring and makes it hard to breathe. There are 3 types of silicosis. Acute is where symptoms happen a few weeks up to 3 years after exposure to a large amount of silica dust. Chronis is where problems may not show up until decades after they have been exposed to low or moderate amounts of silica dust. This is the most common type as symptoms may be mild at first and slowly worsen. Accelerated is where the symptoms become noticeable 5 to 10 years after heavy exposure to silica and they can worsen quickly. Most people who get silicosis are workers who have been exposed to silica dust at work. Jobs in these fields may put you at higher risk:

  • Mining
  • Construction
  • Plaster or drywall installation
  • Sandblasting
  • Roofing
  • What Are The Symptoms Of Silicosis?

    If you have been exposed to silica dust and think you have silicosis it is important to know the symptoms. Some early symptoms can include:

  • Nagging cough
  • Phlegm
  • Trouble breathing
  • Some later symptoms can include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Fever that comes on suddenly
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen legs
  • Blue lips
  • If you notice any of these symptoms you should contact your health care provider immediately to get diagnosed.

    How Is Silicosis Diagnosed?

    When you visit your health care provider they will listen to your concerns and they can also do tests that will help determine what your diagnosis is.

  • Chest x-rays or CT scan- this test can check your lungs for scars bronchoscopy- with this test, the doctor will run a long, thin tube with a tiny camera on the end into your lungs and check for damage.
  • Biopsy- if a lung tissue biopsy is taken the doctor will guide a needle through the chest and into the lungs to take a sample of the nodule. Then it will be checked under a microscope for signs of silicosis. sputum test- this test is used to evaluate other lung diseases such as tuberculosis.
  • Treatment Options for Silicosis

    While there is no cure for silicosis there are treatment options that can help manage your symptoms.

  • Medications such as inhaled steroids can reduce lung mucus and bronchodilators can help relax the breathing passages.
  • Oxygen therapy is a small portable tank that gives extra oxygen to help reduce fatigue
  • Lung transplant surgery- If the lung damage is severe the only option may be a lung transplant.
  • One major lifestyle change that can help with silicosis is to stop smoking if you are a smoker. It can make the lung damage worse and also avoid secondhand smoke if possible.It is important to see a healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis and to come up with a treatment plan if you think you have silicosis or health concerns from breathing in silica dust.

    How to Prevent Overexposure To Silica Dust

    There are steps you can do to prevent silicosis.Some simple steps include:

  • Limit the time you are exposed to silica
  • Wear a mask or other protective clothing when you work around silica dust
  • Use proper ventilation
  • Use wet methods to cut, chop and grind materials that contain silica
  • Swap materials that contain silica for materials that do not
  • Use respirators when working with materials that contain silica
  • Do not eat or drink near silica dust
  • Wash your hands and face before you eat if you have been around dust
  • Shower and change clothes immediately after work
  • Use collection or vacuum systems when available
  • Stay out of areas that contain silica dust, also beware of being downwind from these areas
  • When working with materials that contain silica dust it is important to know your health risks as well as the risk to others. You should be aware of the materials you are working with and ways to prevent the dust from spreading. Should you have any questions or concerns about the materials you are working with or what safety precautions you should be taking on a job site you should ask your foreman for more clarification. If you believe you have been overexposed to silica dust you should make an appointment with your health care provider and you should always get periodic medical exams if you continue to be exposed. Remember your health is important and to take care of yourself.

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