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  • Writer's pictureAir Dynamics Industrial Systems Corporation

Common Problems - Silica Dust

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

Silica Dust Collector
Silica Dust Collector

In 2016, OSHA rolled out new standards for industries dealing with respirable silica dust. Thousands of businesses across the country will be affected by these new guidelines.

Air Dynamics wants to make the task of wading through all the new guidelines as easy as possible. Below you will find definitions, relevant information, and links to important documents regarding silica.

Feel free to call us and talk about your specific application. We provide custom solutions to serious challenges with all forms of hazardous dust and material.

What is Respirable Silica?

Crystalline silica is a mineral found in many materials; both man-made and naturally occurring. When the material containing silica is cut, it produces a micro-crystalline silica dust which is extremely fine.

Generally, Respirable Silica is 0.5 to 0.7 microns.

This dust can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and is known as Respirable Crystalline Silica.

Respirable Crystalline Silica is produced by cutting, grinding, blasting, or otherwise manipulating a material/mineral that contains silica.

Prominent materials include general kinds of stone, quartz, and sand; each containing large quantities of silica. Man-made materials like glass, cement, ceramics, and bricks are frequently cited as common materials with high silica-related diagnoses.

For a full list of industries, click this link to view OSHA's overview of affected industries. Or refer to the references located at the bottom of this page.

How Silica Effects the Body

Respirable Crystalline Silica takes on many forms that are harmful to the health of those exposed. Silica's most prevalent negative effect is a disease known as Silicosis.

OSHA stated that "Silicosis is an irreversible, often disabling, and sometimes fatal fibrotic lung disease. Progression of silicosis can occur despite removal from further exposure" (CFR 1910.1053 Appendix B. pg. 2)

This is a critical factor to understand. Exposure to silica, especially in large quantities, is deadly even after removal from the dust. Since the dust is extremely fine it can lodge deep into the lungs are reside there causing prolonged damage by causing scar tissue to develop. Once the scarring occurs the damage is done.

Silicosis has three stages:

Chronic - Develops over long-term exposure. While it does not manifest itself quickly, the symptoms usually begin with shortness of breath or loss of appetite. This can progress into varying degrees of lung damage that increase the chances of latent tuberculosis (TB) and lung cancer. Silica dust is a known factor in increased cancer risk.

Accelerated - Develops around five to ten years of exposure to respirable silica. The heavier the concentration of silica dust the increased likelihood that accelerated silicosis develops. Similar to symptoms of Chronic Silicosis appears, but in more debilitating forms. Additionally, the lungs can become scarred from the increased amount of dust, and the lungs have been documented to inflame causing numerous other health troubles.

Acute - Develops in under five years. Usually around two years of heavy exposure, but it has been documented to occur in just a few months in some cases. Acute silicosis is often fatal. The lungs are severely damaged by respirable silica. Extreme difficulty breathing is common, and lung inflammation as well. It is highly likely that if you develop acute silicosis, you are at serious risk of developing lung cancer, latent TB, COPD, or other diseases related to the lungs.


Above Photo Credit to the Ashe Institute:

"In the absence of effective specific treatment for silica-related diseases, the only approach remains primary prevention, i.e., control of exposure to respirable silica."

​- Official Statement of the American Thoracic Society on the Adverse Effects of Crystalline Silica Exposure.

How to Prevent Silica Exposure

There are multiple effective ways to help prevent exposure to dangerous levels of silica. Many positive steps have been taken by industries that deal with large amounts of silica dust. Examples would be industrial saws and other equipment that have water injection nozzles to dampen the clouds of dust from cutting stone and cement.

However, regular housekeeping practices may not be sufficient.

The OSHA Small Entity Compliance Guide states companies affected, “must not allow cleaning of surfaces or clothing with compressed air, unless the compressed air is used together with a ventilation system [i.e Dust Collectors] that effectively captures the dust cloud” (pg. 41). Furthermore, “cleaning methods such as dry sweeping, dry brushing, and use of compressed air can cause respirable crystalline silica to get into the air and be inhaled by employees. . .Employers are required to use other cleaning methods such as wet sweeping and HEPA-filtered vacuums” (pg. 41).

The OSHA guidelines do state that in rare cases alternative methods like wet mopping or even sweeping can be allowed, but the key word is rare. In most cases, the safest and most effective method would be dust collection or vacuum systems. (If you'd like an overview of the differences between these systems, read our blog post here about the key points and most effective applications).

“Each case of newly diagnosed silica-related disease in the U.S. represents a failure at the workplace to maintain a safe working environment for employees. Silica-related diseases are preventable with simple, inexpensive interventions. Today’s rule will greatly improve the workplace environment for millions of working Americans,”

- Robert Cohen, MD, occupational health expert and ATS (American Thoracic Society) spokesperson.


Crystalline Silica Overview:

Silica Guidelines for Construction:

Small Entity Compliance Guide:

(This is a great tool for small business who need quick, but detailed information on the new Silica standards)

All Downloadable Silica PDF's from OSHA:

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