Page 16 - OHS, May 2020
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Reducing Silica Exposure Amongst Stone Countertop Workers
Silica is threatening the health of many countertop workers— here’s what you can do to reduce their risk.
12 Occupational Health & Safety | MAY 2020
Home renovation is a trend that continues to gain momentum throughout the United States. Likewise, new hotels, offices, and other structures are being built at a rapid
pace. Throughout all these projects, many builders are often choosing to install stone countertops, whether marble, granite or engineered stone that includes quartz and other components. But there is a signifi- cant potential hazard facing stone countertop produc- tion facilities that is clouding the health and safety of the workers tasked with producing these slabs: silica.
What is Respirable Crystalline Silica?
Crystalline silica is a common mineral that is found in materials such as stone, artificial stone and sand. When workers cut, grind, mix, demolish, polish or drill materials used in stone and engineered stone countertop fabrication that contain crystalline silica, they can be exposed to very small silica dust particles. These respirable crystalline silica particles are able to travel deep into workers’ lungs and are associated with adverse health effects, including silicosis which is an incurable and sometimes deadly lung disease.
Silicosis and Stone and Engineered Stone Countertop Production
Finding cases of silicosis in the countertop industry is
something relatively new in the United States that has recently been reported on in the media as well as by the CDC and OSHA.1 The CDC and OSHA estimate that over two million American workers are already exposed to silica in construction.2
These government agencies and media outlets have helped bring to light the hazards of stone and engineered stone countertop production resulting in silica exposure, especially when the process of dry- cutting is used instead of wet-cutting.3 As these news stories and the statistics show, reports of silicosis, in- cluding fatalities, have increased among stone coun- tertop workers.4
As the demand for these stone and engineered stone countertop products has risen, so has the need for more workers and more production. Moreover, not only does natural granite contain silica, but en- gineered stone contains about twice as much quartz. Crystalline silica content in countertop materials ranges from between 45 percent in granite to 90 per- cent in engineered stone. Workers utilizing such ma- terials may be exposed to these small silica particles when cutting, grinding, chipping, drilling and polish- ing stone and engineered stone products; handling ground quartz; or cleaning up afterwards. Use of hand tools at the shop or job site can lead to some of the highest exposure levels.
Ververidis Vasilis/

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