Crystalline silica, the mineral found in the makeup of concrete, is a widely known hazard for concrete construction workers. As such, there are measures workers and managers must take to ensure the safety of those involved in any given concrete project. This is especially true for industries like concrete surface prep, where abrasive machinery breaks up and grinds away concrete, releasing the powdery silica.

Managing concrete dust in concrete surface jobs will involve attention to OSHA silica standards for concrete construction as well as adequate dust collection methods. This post focuses on the why (standards) and the how (implementation) for managing concrete dust. Stick around to learn more.

OSHA Silica Standard & Your Concrete Project

So, what are the standards set by OSHA for concrete construction work? First, understand that silica particles pose a great risk to unprotected workers. Silica has been linked to lung cancer, pulmonary disease, kidney disease, and is the cause of silicosis – which is incurable. For this reason, OSHA has required employers to take proper precautions.

Primarily, these standards involve limiting worker exposure to the hazardous particle. For example, actively using handheld power saws on concrete or brick for four or more hours indoors requires the use of an APF 10 respirator.

OSHA also requires that:

  • Employers establish a written exposure control plan
  • Assign the appropriate manager or supervisor to implement the control plan
  • Limit cleaning measures that involve excessive silica exposure
  • Offer medical exams
  • Train workers on silica-related safety and dangers
  • Maintain records of any exposure or related events

The best way to manage concrete dust is by following these standards and pairing your control plan with adequate housekeeping practices.

What to Do If You Inhale Concrete Dust

Exposure to concrete dust can cause choking, difficulty breathing, and irritation to the eyes and nose. Most serious conditions related to silica will develop by consistent dust inhalation from everyday work. If you have inhaled excessive amounts of dust or if you work with concrete dust regularly (especially if you do not actively use your respirator), you should:

  • Schedule a medical examination
  • Get a chest x-ray
  • Request a pulmonary function test

Employers should have resources ready and be prepared to assist workers in scheduling medical exams with the company physician.

Dust Collectors for Crystalline Silica Extraction

Proper silica dust extraction starts with having the right tools to get the job done. Dust extractors and concrete dust vacuums must be built to collect and contain hazardous silica dust on the most minuscule of levels.

Power and longevity are also important. As you do your research, ask yourself: Will I need my machine to run continuously or just a few times per day? Will need something portable for transportation? What about heavy-duty vacs? Most dust collector providers can help you find these answers. But before you reach out, you’ll want to read a bit about the importance of HEPA filters.  

HEPA Filter Vacuums

For those who don’t know, HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air. Filters with HEPA capabilities are able to remove 99.97% or more of dust and other airborne particles (.3 microns or smaller in some cases).

While most industrial vacuums and dust collectors will come with these filters already, it’s important to note that not every filter is built the same. Some have a different purpose, interacting with the particles and the air for optimal trapping.

Wet Polishing for Silica Inhalation Prevention

Alternatively, you can wet polish your concrete surface to cut down on the amount of silica dust exposure. Wet polishing involves the use of water to manage the effects of concrete abrasion. The particles, in other words, become washed up in the liquid rather than suspended in the air and posing a danger.

Until the early ‘90s, wet polishing was the standard polishing method across the industry. If you decide to go with the wet polishing method, note that you’ll have to implement adequate slurry management practices for disposal.

Concrete Surface Equipment for Rent or Purchase

Runyon Surface Prep is a full-service purchase and rental facility specializing in all-things concrete surface prep. From abrasive concrete tools like floor grinders and scarifiers to dust extraction machines and accessories, we have a full catalog of products engineered to help you deliver a quality installation. Browse our site to learn more or reach out online today.