Few people really enjoy expanding government regulations. While there’s certainly been a lot of focus on the recent silica dust regulation updates, we haven’t spent much time looking at the rationale behind it. Namely, the silicosis OSHA is trying to prevent construction Pros from suffering through later in life.
Quick Article Summary
- Silicosis occurs from breathing in silica dust
- That dust damages your lungs over time
- No permanent cure exists
- Prevention is essential
- Consider regular checkups to monitor potential problems
What is Silicosis?
Silicosis is a lung fibrosis that takes hold when you breathe in silica dust. Concrete and masonry work, mining, and other sectors kick up this type of dust on a regular basis. As you breathe in silica dust, it damages the lining of your lungs’ air sacs. This creates eventual scar tissue inside your lungs and can cause fluid buildup, affecting your ability to breathe as your lungs stiffen.
Acute silicosis symptoms can begin as early as a few weeks after exposure and include a cough, weight loss, and fatigue. In some people, it may take years before the symptoms occur.
Chronic silicosis typically shows up 10 – 30 years after you are exposed. This gets into your upper lungs and can result in extensive scarring.
If you remain in a high-exposure environment, you’ll experience accelerated silicosis, which means you’ll experience the long-term effects even sooner—usually within 10 years.
Disturbingly, no cure for silicosis exists, and it also increases your risk of lung cancer, tuberculosis, and COPD. Only preventative measures will keep your lungs healthy.
Reducing Risk on Site
OSHA’s updated regulations lower the permissible exposure level (PEL) from 250 micrograms per cubic meter to 50 micrograms. They created Table 1 to offer an easy-to-read guide for selecting the right tools, accessories, and dust collection systems to keep you in compliance.
If you don’t see your application on the list, you can still use objective data to prove a system of tools and methods will keep you under the limit.
Finally, you can fit your crew with monitors to gather actual exposure data and ensure they stay below the limit.
Many tool manufacturers, like Bosch, are making the process of selecting Table 1 compliant systems easier by providing objective data documentation straight from their website. You can easily bring up the information in your job planning meeting, morning safety meeting, or access it on your smartphone.
Additional Steps to Prevent Silicosis
If you work in a trade that has a risk of silica dust exposure, get proactive with your medical care. Your insurance likely carries a free or low-cost annual wellness exam. Let your doctor know you want to stay ahead of silicosis so he or she pays close attention to your lungs.
If think silicosis has already done some damage, they may want a lung CT scan, bronchoscopy, or biopsy. Some of this can help establish a baseline to continue monitoring your health. Either way, the upfront cost will be worth it if you’re able to prevent damage at a later date.
If your doctor establishes that you have silicosis, it’s not the end of the world. You will, however, have some lifestyle changes. Obviously, you need to eliminate any additional exposure. You may also get an inhaler to help decrease sputum or to relax your air tubes.
If your silicosis is more advanced, you may need oxygen on a regular basis. The most extreme cases may even see you put on the list for a lung transplant.
Once the disease sets in, you’ll have to avoid airborne irritants like smoke, pollen, and air pollution. Managing the disease takes a lot of care and there’s no getting around the fact that it will be expensive.
We don’t want to scare anyone. The bottom line—silicosis is real and needs to be a concern. Do your best to focus on prevention and you can alleviate or bypass most of these concerns.