What Is Silica?
Crystalline silica is a mineral present in many materials, and its use is widespread. 15% of the Earth’s crust contains silica, and silica is also found in sand, granite, and other “hard rocks”. Respirable crystalline silica is created through an activity, such as abrasive blasting, drilling concrete, cement and asphalt manufacturing, jack-hammering, brick and concrete block cutting, and much more.
The Dangers of Silica
It is estimated that 2.3 million people in the United States are exposed to silica at work. However, workers who inhale respirable crystalline silica are at increased risk for developing serious silica-related diseases. Exposure to respirable crystalline silica has been linked to silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.
OSHA's Respirable Crystalline Silica Standards
There are many reasons for the newly issued respirable silica standards. The previous permissible exposure limits (PELs) are formulas that many find hard to understand. Construction and shipyard PELs are obsolete particle count limits, and these previous PELs do not adequately protect workers. Furthermore, extensive epidemiologic evidence shows that lung cancer and silicosis occur at exposure levels below 100 ug/m3.
OSHA has issued two new respirable crystalline silica standards to better protect workers exposed to silica. One is for the construction industry, while the other is for general industry and maritime. To learn more about the silica standard for the construction industry, read our blog post here.