According to OSHA’s Controlling Silica Exposures in Construction (Links to an external site.)  article (PDF), “Exposure to fine particles of silica has been shown to cause silicosis, a serious and sometimes fatal lung disease. Construction employees who inhale fine particles of silica may be at risk of developing this disease. Employees produce dusts containing silica when they cut, grind, crush, or drill construction materials such as concrete, masonry, tile and rock. The small particles easily become suspended in the air and, when inhaled, penetrate deep into employees’ lungs. Studies show that using a stationary masonry saw to cut bricks, concrete blocks and similar materials can result in hazardous levels of airborne silica if measures are not taken to reduce dust emissions.”

When was the last time you saw a construction site using wet methods or respiratory protection to protect workers from silica exposure? Given the nature of the industry, many workers are subcontractors or mobile in that they work for whichever contractor or subcontractor has work, and move from employer to employer, and the latency period between exposure and disease ranges from 15-25 years. What can/should the industry do to better protect the workers? What can/should industrial hygienists do to better protect workers? What do you do or say when the response is that the cost of construction will go up?

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