Exposure to silica dust poses serious health and safety threats to workers in many construction related industries. As we know, inhaling respirable crystalline silica is extremely dangerous as it can greatly increase a worker’s risk of developing silicosis, lung cancer, COPD or kidney disease.
OSHA has recently tightened regulations for operations that produce silica dust. Contractors can avoid exposure assessments and monitoring by complying with the safety controls specified in Table 1 of OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1926.1153. The grace period for the milling industry to implement these procedures has come to an end, and other industries can expect specific regulations in the near future for their operations. Based on the construction industry trends and safety knowledge, it is important for all operations with exposure to silica dust to implement controls that protect workers and maintain OSHA compliance.
While there are multiple ways to modify operations to reduce silica dust exposure, adding a surfactant designed to control silica dust to existing water spray down systems is an immediate and effective solution that prevents most OSHA imposed exposure assessments. A surfactant is a highly concentrated wetting agent that lowers the surface tension of water. This allows the water to better saturate dust particles, which causes them to drop out of the air onto the ground.
When choosing a surfactant for your operations, be sure to choose a solution that has a specifically targeted formula for silica dust control. There are multiple surfactants on the market, but just because a product is labelled as a surfactant does not mean it was designed for silica dust suppression and worker safety. A surfactant designed for silica dust control should be formulated to alter the static surface charge of dust particles. There should be adequate testing to show significant dust reduction levels. A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) should accompany the surfactant and it should be properly labelled meeting the latest GHS standard, which is required for industrial use chemicals. Surfactants formulated for silica dust suppression and tested to show proven effectiveness are easy to implement and cost effective.
Most dust producing machines are already equipped with a water tank; adding a surfactant to the existing spray down system is easy and does not typically require additional installation of parts or equipment. Employees utilizing the surfactant should be informed about the dilution rate of the surfactant and proper practices, but additional extensive training would be unnecessary.
When choosing a dust-suppression surfactant look for a product that demonstrates effective results at high dilution rates. This type of surfactant requires very little product but creates dramatic dust reducing results. Adding a proven surfactant to existing water spray down systems reduces the amount of water needed for effective dust suppression. This provides additional cost savings in the form of time, labor and the water itself.
Adding an appropriate surfactant to operations with exposure to silica dust is a smart way for contractors to be OSHA compliant and keep workers safe from harmful exposure.