Silicosis Health Alert

Every year, two million workers in the U.S. are exposed to crystalline silica, which can cause silicosis, a disabling and sometimes fatal disease. In fact, over 200 people are known to die each year from silicosis. When workers inhale crystalline silica, the lung tissue reacts by developing fibrotic nodules and scars around the trapped silica particles. This condition, known as silicosis, makes breathing very difficult and can also make you more susceptible to other diseases such as tuberculosis. Since there is no cure for this disease, prevention is the only answer.

How Do Construction Workers Get Exposed?

Crystalline silica, also known as quartz, is a natural compound in the earth's crust and is a basic component of sand and granite. Since these compounds are common products in concrete and masonry there are many ways for construction workers to be exposed, such as:


  • Sawing, hammering, drilling, grinding, and chipping of rock, concrete, or masonry.
  • Abrasive blasting using silica sand or blasting concrete.
  • Demolition of concrete and masonry structures.
  • Dry sweeping or pressurized air blowing of concrete, rock, or sand dust.


What You Can Do

The key to preventing silicosis is to prevent silica dust from being released into the air. OSHA requires administrative or engineering controls to be used whenever possible. A simple control may work. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself:


  • Employers should use engineering controls such as water sprays, blasting cabinets, and ventilation of containment structures. (For example, a water hose to wet dust down at the point of generation.)
  • Use abrasives that do not contain silica whenever possible or those with less than 1% crystalline silica during abrasive blasting.
  • Always use dust collection systems, such as local exhaust ventilation, which are available for many types of dust generating equipment.
  • Be aware of the health effects of crystalline silica and that smoking adds to the damage.
  • Know the work operations where crystalline exposure may occur.
  • Use type CE positive pressure abrasive blasting respirators for sandblasting.
  • For other operations that require respirators, use those approved for protection against crystalline silica-containing dust. (Respirators should only be used after dust controls are in place. If controls cannot keep dust levels below permissible exposure levels then respirators should be used).
  • If possible, change into disposable or washable work clothes at the worksite; shower (where available) and change into clean clothing before going home.
  • Wash your hands and face before eating, drinking, or smoking.


Symptoms of Silicosis


  • Initially there may be no symptoms of silicosis.
  • Continued exposure may result in shortness of breath when exercising, possible fever, and occasionally blue colored skin at the ear lobes or lips.
  • Progression of silicosis leads to fatigue, extreme shortness of breath, loss of appetite, chest pain, and respiratory failure, which may cause death.
  • See a physician if you experience these symptoms and suspect that you have been exposed to crystalline silica.


Source: Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America