<< Back to Silica, Crystalline - Construction

Ellen I. Roznowski

Exposure to crystalline silica can occur in the following construction activities:
  • Chipping, hammering, and drilling in rock or concrete or brick
  • Crushing, loading, hauling, and dumping of rock and concrete
  • Abrasive blasting using silica sand or from the materials being blasted (concrete)
  • Sawing, hammering, drilling, grinding, and/or chipping on masonry or concrete
  • Demolition of brick, concrete, or masonry
  • Dry sweeping concrete, sand, or rock dust
  • Trenching and excavation
  • Tile and grout work
Recent Case examples in construction:
  1. 39 year old sandblaster diagnosed with silicosis and tuberculosis after 22 years of abrasive blasting. He began noticing gradual shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest discomfort. Lung tissue samples showed extensive fibrosis (silicosis)

  2. 49 year old man diagnosed with silicosis, emphysema, and asthma after 21 years of work as a tile installer where he was exposed to dust from cutting, drilling, and working with grout. He was a nonsmoker.

  3. A brick mason was diagnosed with silicosis, emphysema, and lung cancer at age 70 after working 41 years laying brick. He was a nonsmoker.

  4. Rock Driller. A 47 year old man was diagnosed with severe silicosis after working 22 years as a rock driller.

  5. Tunnel worker. 69 year old male died of silicosis after working two years as a tunnel construction worker. Previous to that he was a nurse. He did not wear a respirator nor did he know of the need to wear one.

  6. Building Renovation Mason. A 55 year old man was diagnosed with simple silicosis after working 30 years as a mason. A lung biopsy revealed silica nodules, but he was still working. He periodically was involved with sand blasting and using a masonry saw.

  7. Sandblasting in Texas, a physician reported on three individuals with silicosis who sand blasted pipes in the oil fields. One of the workers, a 34 year old male later died from silicosis. A later investigation found 10 workers with silicosis who did construction sandblasting. Nine of the workers worked for the same company. Seven (7) were under the age of 30.
Three Current OSHA Cases:
  1. New England: Employer using Black Beauty to blast concrete, Overexposures to crystalline silica were 1.4 times the PEL, chipping on concrete, found levels greater than 6 times the PEL, percent silica in the samples was 19-21%.

    Also found that employer was aware of the hazards of silica, had not provided information and training, workers wore unapproved respirators with beards.

    A consultant also found that workers wearing abrasive blasting hoods were overexposed inside the blast helmet.

  2. On another construction site - workers doing abrasive blasting were exposed to up to 90% silica and were found to be 80 times the PEL.

  3. Region V - Cleveland. Willful violations for silica used in abrasive blasting, Inspection was initiated from an employee complaint filed by the attorney for the worker. The worker has silicosis and only recently stopped working.
OSHA Enforcement Information for Construction:
    From 1985 through 1990, 11% of the workplace deaths due to silicosis where silicosis was identified on the death certificates was in the construction industry.

    26% of all OSHA samples collected in Construction for crystalline silica exceed the OSHA PEL in 1993 and 1994.
OSHA Inspection Information: Includes State plan state and federal enforcement data:
    inspection data from: Oct. 1, 1985 through Sept. 30, 1996

    Total Inspection where overexposures to crystalline silica were cited = 128

    43 of these inspections were the result of complaints

    53 of the inspections were referrals

    14 of the inspections were planned

    18 inspections were follow-up or referrals where overexposures to silica were cited again
OSHA Sampling Data From the SLC Data Base for Construction:
Type of Industry
No. Of Samples
1542 Nonresidential Const. 57 62
1611 Highway & Street Const. 40 60
1622 Bridge, Tunnel, Elevated Hwy 136 49
1629 Heavy Const 123 52
1721 Painting and Paper hanging 93 51
1741 Masonry and Stone 69 36
1742 Plastering, drywall, insulation 36 22
1751 Carpentry 8 25
1752 Floor laying and work 20 70
1771 Concrete work 102 62
1794 Excavation work 6 33
1795 Wrecking and demolition 26 46
1799 Misc, Special trades 108 51

Note: This data base is mostly from the 1980's and early 1990's, new OSHA sampling data has not been added for several years. I suspect it would still be very similar.