What is Silicosis?
Silica is a compound formed from silicon and oxygen, often found in quartz, flint, agate, beach sand, sandstone and glass. When Silica particles are inhaled, it results in the formation of scar tissue in the lungs preventing oxygen from getting in the blood. This condition eventually results in a disease called Silicosis, an incurable and progressive lung disease. Approximately 300 people die from the disease every year in the United States.
More than one million workers are occupationally exposed to crystalline silica dusts in the United States. According to the World Health Organization, more than 100,000 of these workers are sandblasters. What is alarming is that 59,000 of them will eventually develop silicosis.
Sandblasting and Silicosis:
In Sandblasting, compressed air or steam is used to project a stream of abrasive particles onto a surface, which commonly includes materials like silica sand. Sandblasters or workers who operate this process are continually exposed to the harmful substance while cleaning sand and irregularities from foundry castings, removing paint etc because the silica sand used in abrasive blasting normally breaks up into fine particles and becomes airborne. Since these silica particles are invisible to the naked eye, workers may not be aware of the risks they are involved in, while performing their daily tasks.
In a research conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health during the late 1990s, 99 sandblasters with cases of Silicosis were studied. Fourteen of them died from the disease. The remaining 85 developed complications related to Silicosis and were at risk of death. However, the relation between Silicosis and Sandblasting is not recent. As far back as in 1936, a study in Great Britain reported that 5.4% of a population of sandblasters died from silicosis or silicosis with tuberculosis during a 3 and a half year period.
Prevention of Silicosis for Sandblasters:
Avoiding inhalation of dust containing free crystalline silica is the first basic step to prevent development of Silicosis by people in the Sandblasting occupation. The use of crystalline silica for blast cleaning operations was already prohibited in Great Britain in 1950 followed by other European countries in 1966.
Adequate respiratory protection such as a type CE Abrasive Blasting Respirator should be used by everyone engaged in the sandblasting occupation, especially for workers adjacent to blasting operation machines.
Pneumatic (relating to air or other gases) tools used in industries like granite cutting tends to release larger quantities of free crystalline silica-containing dust. The use of these tools must be accompanied by an efficient dust control system.
Using safer materials such as Specular Hematite, Blasting Cullet, slag, or steel grit and shot as abrasive for sandblasting, instead of sand greatly decreases the chances of inhaling crystalline Silica particles.
Wetting down dry materials and surfaces before working on them also reduces the chances of crystalline Silica containing dusts becoming airborne. Eating, drinking, or smoking near sandblasting operations greatly increases the chances of crystalline Silica inhalation. Do wash your hands before. Do not take work clothes back home, which unnecessarily increases risks of exposure to your family and yourself.