The dangers of inhaling crystalline silica

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Type:  Lessons Learned

Publisher:  Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland WA), Richland, WA (PNNL)

Published As:  Public


Topics:  Respiratory Protection

Recurring worker exposure to dust containing crystalline silica is a safety concern for all DOE sites and their contractors. Grinding, cutting, jack hammering, blasting, or using drills, loaders or graders, on asphalt, brick, cement, concrete, drywall, grout, mortar, stone, sand or tile can generate silica dust. Inhalation can lead to an incurable lung disease called silicosis-or even cancer. Recent events involving other DOE labs and contractors demonstrate the importance of work planning and controls for projects that may create airborne silica:
  • Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (TJNAF): Two workers were exposed to silica above the threshold limit value (TLV) in June 2013
  • Pantex Plant: Lab tests indicated silica contamination on a filter after grinding operations in June 2012.
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory: Two subcontractors were exposed to silica dust above the TLV in May 2012.
  • TJNAF: In March 2012, the facility reported recurring failure to recognize silica as a hazard.
Lessons Learned: Silicosis is preventable by practicing good work planning and using appropriate controls. Recognize silica dust hazards and communicate them to workers. Use engineering controls, such as blasting cabinets and local exhaust ventilation, or water sprays and wet cutting, drilling and sawing in addition to work controls, including silica-approved respirators. See the Respiratory Protection work control in HDI for PNNL requirements, including hazard evaluation.

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