Crystalline silica is a mineral found in the Earth and is commonly encountered in our day-to-day lives in the form of concrete, bricks, glass, ceramics, and more. When these materials are cut, crushed, sanded, or grinded, the crystalline silica can become respirable (able to be inhaled). Over time, inhaling silica can cause silicosis, which is a serious lung disease that can lead to COPD, lung cancer, and kidney disease.
Typically, rescuers are not exposed to these hazards every day like workers in other fields such as the construction industry. However, it is still important that rescuers reduce any exposure to respirable silica to the lowest level possible. Structural collapse rescuers, especially those breaching and breaking concrete, are going to be exposed to the hazard.
To reduce rescuer exposure to respirable silica, the most realistic options are engineering controls, administrative controls, and using personal protective equipment. Eliminating the risk is usually not possible because of the exposures typically occurring during emergency incidents. One engineering control is using wet cutting techniques, which not only keeps blades cool but also knocks down dust. Administrative controls can include training rescuers on the hazards and limiting the amount of time a rescuer spends performing work in areas where respirable silica is known to be present.
The last line of defense is using respiratory protection. It is important to note that even if you do not see any visible dust in the air, it is still possible that there is respirable silica in the air. For that reason, respiratory protection should always be used, even if other controls are in place!
If you are interested in learning more about this hazard, send me an email and ask about our Silica Dust (2 hours) course. Stay safe,
Elder Technical Rescue Services, LLC