Silica Exposures in the Workplace

February 9, 2013 Dave Weber No Comments



Crystalline silica is an abundant material found in several forms (rocks, sand, and stones) throughout the world.  The respirable fraction of silica dust is extremely hazardous and can cause a variety of lung diseases.  If your employees are exposed to this toxic dust, you need to read this article!

The specific types of operations that may produce over exposures to silica include, but are not limited to:

  • foundry sand molds
  • concrete plants
  • glass manufacturing
  • marble and granite counter tops manufacturing
  • sandblasting of metal or concrete
  • road work
  • tuck pointing 

During my time in the field as an OSHA Industrial Hygienist,  many of the air tests that I did for respirable silica found dangerous over exposures!  Some over exposures were caused by the workers not wearing a respirator like you see in the above photo.     In other cases, the employee did wear a proper respirator, however the employee removed the hood as soon as he quit sand blasting so he could inspect the work.  This practice is dangerous and  greatly contributes to the employee’s silica exposure because the invisible silica particles remain suspended in the air for a long time after sandblasting has ended.

OSHA has a National Emphasis Program on crystalline silica.   If you think you might possibly have an exposure to silica you should definitely review this OSHA publication.   It contains detailed information on:

  • the health hazards associated with silica
  • list of industries being targeted by OSHA 
  • medical record requirements
  • guidelines for air sampling
  • sand blasting procedures
  • minimum respirator protection
  • housekeeping practices
  • recommended engineering controls


Recently, the Center for Construction Research and Training launched a new website  called Working Safely With Silica.  They say it’s the “one-stop source of information on how to prevent a silica hazard and protect workers.”  It contains free downloadable: manuals, guides, toolbox talks, handouts, videos and regulations!

Also, there’s a new publication just out called – Controlling Dust from Concrete Saw Cutting.  It’s free and available either here or here.

For even more information on silica safety and toxicology, check out our toxicology webpage!


Clifford Weston is the author of this article.  Cliff worked for OSHA for more than two decades.  When he retired, he was the Area Director for OSHA’s  Bridgeport, Connecticut office.   Cliff lives in Texas, and his email address is –

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