The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has urged employers and employees to understand the five key steps to protect workers from deadly silica dust.

Depending on what work is being done, employers should ensure their workers are aware of the following.

  1. Use local exhaust ventilation to suck the dust away before you can breathe it in. Some workstations will have hoods or enclosures.

  2. Operate on-tool extraction — make sure you use the controls integrated or mounted onto a hand-held tool to capture the dust while you’re using it.

  3. Damp down the dust — use water to keep dust levels down. You need to use enough water for the whole time that the work is being done. Just wetting the material before you start doesn’t work.

  4. Wear a mask — put on a respirator that suits the job — for many tasks you will need an FFP-3 standard mask or a powered mask or hood if the work lasts longer. Never use a “nuisance” dust mask — it won’t protect you.

  5. Get trained. Understand the dangers of silica exposure and when and how to use dust controls and protective equipment.

Employers should also think about changing the product or process — for example, using a safer material than silica sand as an abrasive for cleaning brick and stone, such as olivine which is a naturally occurring magnesium-iron silicate. Other options for changing the process may include getting materials cut to size off-site in a facility where dust exposure can be more easily controlled.

In addition, IOSH has pointed out:

  • even a quick task can create dangerous levels of silica dust so every exposure must be controlled

  • silica dust particles are so small that they float in the air for longer and can be breathed deep into the lungs

  • controlling silica dust cuts the risk of lung cancer, silicosis and emphysema

  • it is necessary to control dust when clearing up after a job — damping down or using an industrial vacuum and wearing a respirator is important.

Last reviewed 14 February 2020