SafeWork SA recently released new guidance on managing the risks of silica dust across the construction industry.
Crystalline silica is a natural mineral found in construction materials such as concrete, bricks, tiles, hebel, mortar and engineered stone.
When these materials are ground, cut, drilled, sanded, loaded or demolished, inhaling the dust can cause deadly lung and respiratory diseases such as silicosis.
“Proper protection from exposure is a lot more than just wearing a dust mask, which alone, provides minimal protection,” said SafeWork SA executive director, Martyn Campbell.
“Engineering controls have become more accessible in recent times and are reasonably practicable to use in many cases; compliance with the regulations can be achieved through the application of basic, well-known exposure controls.”
When engineering controls do not adequately control risks of exposure to silica dust, PCBUs must provide their workers with RPE, according to the guidance.
“Wearing a respirator does not stop silica from becoming airborne. Respirators should not be used as the primary means of control, but rather in combination with higher-order controls like local exhaust ventilation or water suppression,” the guidance said.
“It is important to choose the right respirator for the job and workers must wear it for the whole time silica is in the air. If workers wear a tight-fitting respirator, they must pass a respirator fit-test to ensure it provides a good seal for their face size and shape.
“Workers must be completely clean-shaven or clean-shaven beneath the seal of the respirator for the respirator to seal properly.”
The guidance also noted worker exposure levels at a construction project are based on total RCS exposures from all sources and must take into account all conditions that may add or contribute to the worker’s overall exposure level.
“At a construction project, it is foreseeable that worker exposure may be affected by activities undertaken by other contractors. On many construction projects, there can be multiple contractors performing RCS generating tasks,” the guidance said.
“The RCS generated by these tasks can impact other contractors. Such impacts/exposures are called secondary exposures.
“Principal contractors and PCBUs need to consider these secondary exposures when determining whether worker exposure will remain below the TWA under any foreseeable conditions, including the potential failure of a control measure.”