Is There a Health Hazard “Hanging Around” Your Shop?
Every shop owner should be aware of the importance of shop safety. After all, stone fabrication is a potentially dangerous occupation. Some hazards are easily identified. Others though, are not so easy to notice. In this article, we are going to talk about a health hazard that hangs around in fabrication shops and in many cases is either not noticed or simply not addressed. Then we will discuss why this hazard is most likely in your fabrication facility. Finally, we will examine if there is any solution to having this unwanted visitor and if so, how to realize that solution. So, what do you think, is there a health hazard hanging around your shop?
A Hazard Found Hanging Out in Fab Shops
Fabrication shops are everywhere across the United States. In fact, nearly every state (if not all of them) have at least one fabrication shop. This makes sense because hard surfaces of all sorts are ubiquitous. Businesses, homes, civil buildings, public structures, etc. All of these buildings have at least one (and probably more than one) hard surface that required some sort of fabrication.
The fabrication shops that worked these materials though, most likely had an undesirable visitor hanging out in it. What visitor is that? Respirable crystalline silica dust. Many people feel that dust is dust. “We breathe dust all the time, what’s the harm of the dust in the shop?” Keep reading to find out more.
Is it Really a Hazard?
Is fabrication dust really that much of a hazard? Well, it seems to be the case. Note what the CDC says regarding this in Crystalline Silica: Health Risks of Exposure:
Silica dust particles become trapped in lung tissue causing inflammation and scarring. The particles also reduce the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.
So, not only does silica dust irritate the lungs, but it degrades the ability of the lungs to operate in the normal manner. Now the question becomes, “is this harmful dust in my shop?” Let’s see why it most likely is in your shop.
Why It’s Probably in Your Shop
That respirable crystalline silica is more than likely in your shop can be understood through the lens of logic. Fabricated materials largely include the following:
- Sintered Stone
- Natural Stone
- Engineered Stone
And there are other types of natural stone, engineered materials, and concrete products that we could list. But note what the OSHA Website says about where respirable crystalline silica is commonly found:
Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth’s crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete, and mortar contain crystalline silica. It is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, and artificial stone.
The correlation is clear. A great deal of the materials used in the fabrication industry are the same materials that contain silica. What’s the point? Well, every time these materials are cut using a blade, ground using a shaping tool, or bored using a core bit, dust is generated from the material being worked. This dust makes its way into the air and simply “hangs out” there waiting to be breathed in by workers. Note this quote from National Laboratory of Medicine:
The present study analyzed the occupational factors that may contribute to the development of silicosis in artificial stone workers performing activities with the inhalation of silica compact dust.
Even Found in Non-shop Work Environments
Even if you work in an industry that is not confined to a shop, this is still a potential hazard. Note what National Laboratory of Medicine says about the idea of breathable dust by gold miners in one country:
…silicosis is currently at the center of several major public health and legal responses to the serious epidemic of occupational lung disease in the South African gold mining industry uncovered in studies…
As we have seen, dust that is generated in virtually any environment that consists of one or more of several common materials, has been linked to health hazards stemming from breathing their dust.
No that we have identified the unwanted hazardous culprit lurking in virtually every fabrication shop and established that if left unchecked, this culprit can have serious consequences, let’s talk about what you can do (or are doing, if your shop is already familiar with this hazard) to control it.
How to Control the Hazard
As with any hazard, controlling respirable crystalline silica dust means putting a process in place to manage the dust that is produced in the shop. There are a number of ways to manage shop dust to reduce the amount of it that lingers in the air breathed by workers.
Reduce Dust Using A Wet Environment
One of the recommended ways to control dust and keep it out of the air is to run stone tools in a wet environment. Using wet saws and stone tools that are cooled with water also prevents the dust from making its way into the air. Even though a wet environment is used, it is still important to include management into your system. For example, using a water treatment system that cycles water through a system that extracts the dust and isolates the particles so that they can be properly disposed of is recommended.
Capture Dust in Dry Environments
Another recommended method for controlling dust in the fabrication shop is by utilizing dust capturing or dust containment machines in the immediate work area. Free-standing dry dust capturing equipment or mechanisms that work as wet dust containment machines are both ways to control dust particles that could become a health hazard to workers in the fabrication environment.
In conclusion, dust particles from working all sorts of materials prove to be potential hazards if not managed. As we have seen in this article, it is probably in your shop. The question though is, “are you implementing a program or system for capturing and managing potentially harmful dust?”