The Dangers of Crystalline Silica
By Mike Costigan
IBEW Local 11 Safety Director
NECA Safety Director Allen Sloan and I received a call from a member working on a job where the laborers were sweeping up the subterranean parking structure without using “clean sweep“ or the wet method. The pictures he sent us were horrific! You could not see more than 25 feet and you could barely see the amber beacon on a forklift at the other end of the structure.
Allen and I paid this member and the job site a visit and found there to be many more safety violations. We took our own pictures and visited the General Contractor’s trailer to inform him we were on his site and what we discovered. We asked that he address these issues since not only are wireman exposed, but all trade labor. We will be circling back around in a few weeks to see if they are serious about our safety.
Like most hazards, silica is not new, but the discovery of how hazardous it can be if not contained is. Exposure to crystalline silica can cause lung diseases such as silicosis, lung cancer and COPD to mention a few. And many of you who have been in the trade for some time are starting to see more and more tools with attachments that have incorporated a HEPA vacuum. N-95 respirators can also be an effective tool, but PPE is typically the last resort in the hierarchy in safety.
I encourage everyone to familiarize themselves on this topic as you would on any other hazardous condition. If you are drilling or grinding with a tool that doesn’t have a vacuum attachment, you must use the wet method. Something as simple as a spray or water bottle could save you from a lot of grief and future pain. And if you see someone sweeping without “clean sweep” or a similar compound, do as our brother did. Say something or call your representative. We have the right to be safe on the job.