What You Need to Know About Silica Dust in the Workplace

Perhaps you have been hearing about silica dust in the workplace and how it can affect workers and others who come into contact with it. Chances are any news reports, articles, and other information you have been receiving about this is eliciting fear and uncertainty without providing any useful information.

Due to all the controversies surrounding silica dust and moisture mitigation. Many individuals feel at a loss for what to do, which companies to use when installing flooring, and how to protect themselves against this scary-sounding but ill-defined threat.

This guide aims to help you understand what silica dust is, how it can be harmful, ways to protect yourself, and what the dust has to do with moisture mitigation.

What is Silica Dust?

Silica happens to be one of the most common naturally occurring elements in the world. It is the mineral compound silicon dioxide (SiO2), and can be found in two forms: crystalline or non-crystalline, or amorphous. Common sand and quartz are some of the best-known examples of crystalline silica.

Silica dust is produced when concrete or cementitious materials are cut, ground or shot-blasted. Materials that are commonly found in construction sites like rock, masonry, concrete and other landscaping materials can produce Respirable Crystalline Silica or RCS.

What is Silica Dust Poisoning?

Silica becomes hazardous when the materials that contain some amount of crystalline silica are disturbed, either through cutting, grinding or drilling. When this happens, small particles are produced that can get into your lungs. Inhaling even a small amount of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) for a long period of time (in the case of construction workers and other similar workers), can result in serious respiratory problems and even lead to cancer.

Why Is It Dangerous?

When exposed to silica, you are likely to develop the lung disease Silicosis. The disease is a direct result of breathing in small bits of silica over time, which can lead to serious scarring in the lungs, affecting your ability to breathe. There are actually three types of silicosis to be aware of:

  • Acute: Causes cough, weight loss, and fatigue and can develop anywhere between a few weeks and a few years of silica inhalation. Lungs become inflamed and can fill with fluid, resulting in severe shortness of breath as well as low oxygen levels.
  • Chronic: Usually appears between 10 and 30 years after silica exposure and can affect the upper lungs, causing extensive and painful scarring. The dust can also cause areas of swelling in the lungs, chest, and lymph nodes, making it harder and harder to breathe.
  • Accelerated: Occurs within 10 years of high-level exposure and can lead to extreme swelling as well as faster-occurring symptoms than the other levels of silicosis.

The way silica affects the body is gradual yet painful, wearing it down over time with small symptoms that can soon become debilitating. Coughing, fatigue, weight loss, chest pain, swelling, shortness of breath, wheezing, and other issues make silicosis a formidable disease—and there’s no cure.

Just because you don’t see dust doesn’t mean it’s safe. RCS is invisible to the naked eye. One dust particle can weigh less than 10 micro-grams (a micro-gram is 1/millionth of a gram). These invisible RCS particles are so light in weight that they can remain airborne virtually indefinitely.

The best way to stop silicosis is through prevention, making it imperative that workers take the proper precautions when working with or near materials containing silica. These include wearing protective masks, cutting down exposure time, and frequent medical checkups.

What Does Silica Dust Have to Do with Moisture Mitigation?

Much of the controversy surrounding moisture mitigation is that silica can be and is often released into the air when shot-blasting or grinding to prepare a floor for application. The steps of this process include:

  • Prepping the Floor: Prepping the floor usually encompasses shot-blasting the concrete surface in order to create porosity and increase surface area. This stage of the process is when silica is most likely to be spread, as the dust from shot-blasting rises into the air and can be inhaled if workers are not wearing proper protection.
  • Applying to 2-Part Epoxy: After the floor has been shot-blasted, a 2-part epoxy is applied to roughly 10 Mils. Upon cure the epoxy barrier is primed and a 1/8″ blotter layer of cementitious self-leveling material is applied. The self-leveling material is then sanded which can potentially release additional RCS. Only after this third material is cured and sanded is the floor ready for adhesive application.
  • Applying Adhesive and Setting the Flooring: Once the adhesive is troweled, you can then place the flooring. All flooring materials are then rolled within 10 minutes of placement with a 100lb articulated roller.

Working with Formulators

Formulators has seen the controversy over silica dust develop in the flooring industry and years ago took early measures to address the issue. Unlike other construction-product companies, Formulators, produces installation materials engineered to be environmentally safe and employs a full team of professionals with expert knowledge pertaining to installation of its patented Aquaflex waterproof flooring installation system. The Aquaflex system actually avoids moisture mitigation and gets the job done in three easy steps:

  1. Concrete prep
  2. Adhesive application
  3. Tile set

Additionally, the Aquaflex system includes SILICA-FREE concrete repair products that are certified safe, LEED contributing and most importantly waterproof. Aquaflex concrete repair products are also part of the Formulators Performance Warranty. One warranty, from one manufacturer.

Contact Formulators to learn more about the Aquaflex waterproof SILICA-FREE installation system. To get a free demo kit of Formulators’ all-inclusive water adhesive flooring product, sign up here. To get a free consultation from Formulators, click here.