Industrial hygiene testing is a hot topic as of late. You would have to be an ostrich with your head in the sand if you haven’t heard about silica on the job lately. Why all the hype? Well, there has been a lot of concern and posturing over the last few years. OSHA finally drew the line in the sand (no pun intended!) and lowered the 8 hour time weighted average (TWA) permissible exposure limit (PEL) to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3). Employers had a lead time of a year or two to get into compliance, but many are in the throws of determining if they have a problem and, if so, of resolving it. The new limit applies to manufacturers, construction, maritime, and general industry employers. More information is available on OSHA’s FAQ Sheet.
So, just what is silica and why the big concern? Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring mineral of which the most common form is quartz. Other forms are critobalite and tridymite. It is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals. Workers are exposed to crystalline silica when they grind, cut, drill, buff, or otherwise disturb the material that contains the silica. It may become airborne and they can breathe it in. From there, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, or lung cancer can occur, 10 to 30 years later, and these are chronic effects. There are also health effects which can occur within a few weeks. These acute effects may include fever and sharp chest pain along with breathing difficulty. More information is available from the American Lung Association.
The first step is to find out if your workers have an exposure problem. Industrial hygiene testing, specifically air testing will have to be done for the different tasks or operations. The firm doing the testing should have a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH, American Board of Industrial Hygiene). That way the testing will be done properly and will be court defensible. Environmental Safety Consultants fits that bill and has been doing a lot of silica testing over the years, and especially over the last two years. Once the testing is done, you will know if you have a problem and, if so, can determine how to fix the problem.
While you are at it, you should consider other exposures which may affect the health of your workers. These exposures are also industrial hygiene issues. They include noise, chemicals, fumes, heat, radiation, and other particulates. These can result from painting, plating, welding, soldering, abrasive blasting, cutting, grinding, buffing, and other industrial and construction operations. While it may seem overwhelming, ESC can help you work through it. Remember that your workers are your biggest asset and it will pay you back in more ways than one!
Environmental Safety Consultants is licensed, accredited, and certified to provide industrial hygiene testing with a staff that has over 100 years of combined experience! Give us a call at (941) 795-2399 or (727) 538-4154 or send us a quick message for a speedy response on any industrial hygiene questions you might have today.