General Information on Silica Exposure
This site is intended to provide general information for all employees working in the countertop fabrication industry that may be exposed to silica dust. We encourage you and your team members to review the resources available on Natural Stone Institute and OSHA sites below for additional materials and recommendations to eliminate the silica exposure in your working environment. MSI is a proud Safety Committee Sponsor of Natural Stone Institute.
What is silica and silica dust?
Crystalline silica is a mineral commonly found in natural materials like sand, rock and stone. It can also be found in man-made materials like concrete, tile, brick and mortar. When workers cut or drill into materials that contain silica, tiny dust particles are created. (The technical name for this dust is respirable crystalline silica).
Although silica dust may look like ordinary dust, it’s much smaller (about 100 times smaller than sand granules) and much more dangerous. Silica dust is a carcinogen. Over time, breathing this dust can cause the formation of scar tissue in the lungs, which reduces the body’s ability to take in oxygen. Breathing this dust can also cause silicosis, lung cancer, COPD, kidney disease, and certain autoimmune disorders.
What is silicosis?
Employees exposed to silica are at risk for developing silicosis. Depending on the severity and length of an employee’s exposure, he or she may develop one of three silicosis types.
- Chronic or Classic Silicosis — Occurs after 15 to 20 years of moderate to low exposure. Initially, the symptoms may not be obvious. As the disease progresses, workers experience fatigue, extreme shortness of breath, chest pain and respiratory failure.
- Accelerated Silicosis — Occurs after 5 to 10 years of high exposure. Symptoms include severe shortness of breath, weakness and weight loss.
- Acute Silicosis — Occurs after only a few months or up to two years following extremely high exposure. Symptoms include disabling shortness of breath, weakness and weight loss. This form of silicosis is often fatal. Between 3,600 and 7,300 new cases of silicosis are diagnosed in the U.S. every year, but experts believe these figures are much lower than actual occurrences because silicosis is so often overlooked or misdiagnosed. It’s important to note that all forms of silicosis are permanent and irreversible.
Between 3,600 and 7,300 new cases of silicosis are diagnosed in the U.S. every year, but experts believe these figures are much lower than actual occurrences because silicosis is so often overlooked or misdiagnosed. It’s important to note that all forms of silicosis are permanent and irreversible. It’s also worth noting that silicosis is 100% preventable, given the proper safety measures.