Silicosis: Why OSHA Silica Dust Regulations and Table 1 Compliance Matters
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.
What is Silicosis?
Silicosis is a lung fibrosis that takes hold when you breathe in silica dust – the kind of dust you kick up in concrete and masonry work, mining, and other sectors. As you breathe in silica dust, it damages the lining of your lungs’ air sacs. This will create 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.
What’s disturbing is that there’s no cure for silicosis 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. Table 1 was created to offer an easy-to-read guide for selecting the right tools, accessories, and dust collection systems to keep you in compliance.
If your application isn’t on the list, you can use objective data that proves a system of tools and methods keeps you under the limit.
Finally, you can fit your crew with monitors to gather actual exposure data and ensure they’re below the limit.
Many tool manufacturers, like Bosch, are making the process of selecting Table 1 compliant systems easier and 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 on site.
Additional Steps to Prevent Silicosis
If you work in a trade that has a risk of silica dust exposure, be proactive with your medical care. Your insurance likely carries a free or low-cost annual wellness exam anyway, so just let your doctor know that you’re want to stay ahead of silicosis so he or she pays close attention to your lungs.
They may want a CT scan of your lungs, bronchoscopy, or biopsy of your lungs depending on whether they think you’re already down the silicosis path or just want to establish a baseline to continue monitoring you. Either way, the upfront cost will be worth it down the road if you’re able to prevent damage.
If your doctor establishes that you have silicosis, it’s not the end of the world, but you will have some lifestyle changes. Obviously, you’ll need to eliminate any exposure you’re still getting. You may 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. You may even be 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 will take a lot of care and there’s no getting around the fact that it will be expensive.