Safety is a continuously-evolving part of construction, and there are always ways to improve. In 2017, the newest awareness and guidance information in the commercial roofing industry is all about silica. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines have finally been put in place for staying safe around respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in the workplace, and it's in everyone's best interests to understand the best practices surrounding silica work. Here are a few details about silica in construction in general, along with ways that commercial roofing professionals can promote a safe working environment.
What Is Silica, And Why Does It Need Guidelines?
The first thing to cover for people outside of construction and materials handling is that silica is a normal, safe, and almost constantly present part of working with stone, sand, and many other gritty surfaces. It's not the next asbestos and it's not something that needs to be avoided or plastered on top of a sketchy health blog. It's just dust, but inhaling any dust in large amounts can be dangerous.
Silica is silicon dioxide. When it develops naturally into larger pieces, it's known as quartz. The more common silica encountered is the granular form on beaches, known as sand. It's a part of many different stones, the concrete process, and other landscaping and construction materials.
You can't totally avoid it, almost as much as you can't avoid inhaling moisture from the atmosphere or even small traces of pollen. The problem isn't that it exists, but that it can be inhaled in large quantities and cause internal problems. There are other risks--such as eye and skin irritation--which can be avoided with proper procedures.
The most noticeable silica awareness issue is silicosis or silica lung, which is simply inhaling silica. If you or a worker have ever inhaled dust from concrete or stone being cut, that's the problem. It's not a big deal for people just passing by, but workers who constantly cut stone or break stone are working with new guidelines to avoid the breathing condition.
Silica Safety Precautions
Some safety measures are common sense, but were considered a hindrance by workers in certain conditions. Best practice means combining multiple techniques to create a safer environment while minimizing discomfort and distractions. A safety measure isn't truly safe if it leads to other major problems.
Masks are necessary when working with stone and concrete-cutting projects, but your miles may vary. A breathing mask rated for silica work is necessary to ensure proper breathing while avoiding dizziness, but some masks may allow fine silica dust to enter. Check the rating for the product and confirm the rating with OSHA guidelines.
If you're a client of a construction company and want to be safe as well, there's nothing wrong with asking the team for extra equipment during your visit. It may be an extra cost, or you may be able to use extras available for crew. Just remember: if you want your project finished in a timely fashion, make sure that the crew is safe before your visit and consider getting your own equipment for visits.
Contact a roofing contractor to discuss other parts of construction safety.