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Avoiding silica dust exposure at work

How to work safely with concrete, stone and other silica-based products

 

Silica is commonly found in building materials like sand, stone, concrete and mortar, and is often used to make composite materials like stone, gravel, brick and tile.

When it’s left within these building materials, silica is considered safe. However, when materials containing silica are disturbed through actions like cutting, drilling and abrasive blasting, a fine and extremely hazardous dust is released.

If silica dust (or crystalline silica) is inhaled, it enters and remains in the lungs where it causes scarring and permanent tissue damage. Long-term silica dust exposure is proven to cause a range of serious medical conditions like emphysema, bronchitis and silicosis, lung cancer, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What are the WHS regulations for silica dust in Australia?

All Australia states and territories have workplace health and safety (WHS) silica dust regulations in place to determine both employee responsibilities and employer duty of care. Refer to your local regulatory body for the regulations that apply to you.

To further reduce exposure to this hazard, changes were recently made to the workplace exposure standard (WES) to reduce the acceptable level of respirable crystalline silica in all Australian workplaces to no more than 0.05 mg/m3. This WES applies to an 8-hour working day, in a five-day working week, with compliance required under Commonwealth, state and territory WHS laws.

Supporting customers in compliance

According to Darell Kamphuis, Coates Hire’s National General Hire Product Manager, the company was first to the rental market with a silica dust mitigation range to support customers in complying with the new regulations, long before changes were introduced.

“Rather than waiting for customers to come to us and request this equipment, we wanted to anticipate our customers’ needs and develop a range that would allow us to offer support from the get-go,” says Darell. “Attending a tradeshow in the US introduced us to some of the products and solutions that were available globally, and gave us a head start on working with our suppliers to develop a range of products suited to managing this hazard here in Australia.”

“Our knowledge and experience in this area has also led to Coates Hire providing an interface between the regulatory bodies in some states and territories and other industry bodies and customers to provide education and advise on suitable products and approaches to address this issue,” Darell continues.

Working safely with silica

Although silica is an inherent part of working with building materials like concrete, stone and tile, there are ways to work safely with these materials. Coates Hire’s comprehensive range of dust mitigation equipment is designed to support companies of all sizes.

Silica dust extraction

When dry cutting materials like stone and concrete, Coates Hire’s range of saws and grinders can come fitted with dust extractors, or can be complemented by quality vacuum accessories to extract silica dust as it’s produced. Dust extraction kits are available for the safe drilling, chiselling and demolition of most masonry surfaces.

Silica slurry extraction

Wet cutting, drilling and grinding are the preferred methods for working with silica-based products to prevent the production of silica dust, however these approaches still generate silica slurry that poses the risk of exposure as it dries. To avoid this hazard, specialised slurry vacuums can be used to extract slurry from cutting surfaces. Water supply units are also available to provide up to 30 minutes of constant flowing water for wet cutting applications.

Air filtration

As a secondary measure for indoor use Coates Hire offers mobile air cleaner units to filter out any dust particles that manage to bypass wet or dry extraction.

Training

To support the safe use of these products, Coates Hire’s safe use of small plant and equipment training course addresses dust mitigation strategies and introduces participants to dust mitigation tools and equipment. This training is available to customers Australia-wide.

For advice on managing silica dust within your workplace and for all your equipment hire and training needs, reach out to Coates Hire today.

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