Characterisation of Occupational Exposures to Respirable Silica and Dust in Demolition, Crushing, and Chipping Activities.

Exposures to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and respirable dust (RD) were investigated during demolition, crushing, and chipping at several Massachusetts construction sites. Personal breathing zone samples (n = 51) were collected on operating engineers working at demolition and crushing sites, laborers performing miscellaneous tasks at demolition sites, crushing machine tenders at crushing sites, and chipping workers at substructure bridge repair sites. Area samples (n = 33) were collected at the perimeter of demolition and crushing sites to assess potential bystanders’ exposures. Exposures ‘with’ and ‘without’ the use of dust suppression methods were compared when possible. RD samples were analysed for crystalline silica content with Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrophotometry (FT-IR) according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Method 7602. Statistical analyses of the exposure data were performed in SAS version 9.4. Chipping workers had the highest exposure levels [the geometric mean (GM) time-weighted average (TWA) for RCS was 527 µg/m3 and the GM for RD was 4750 µg/m3]. The next highest exposures were among crushing machine tenders (RCS GM of 93.3 µg/m3 and RD GM of 737.6 µg/m3), while laborers and operating engineers had the lowest exposures (RCS GM of 17.0 and 6.2 µg/m3, respectively). Personal 8-h TWA RCS exposures were higher than the new OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3 for 80% of samples collected on chipping workers (n = 31) and 50% of samples collected on crushing machine tenders (n = 8). Operating engineers (n =9) and laborers (n = 3) had RCS exposures lower than OSHA PEL. The highest concentrations measured would have exceeded the PEL within 15 min chipping and within 2 h of crushing with no further exposure. Chipping workers’ RCS exposures were higher than OSHA PEL even when they were adjusted to account for the assigned protection factor of the half-face N95 cartridge respirators used during chipping. Exposures of crushing tenders were reduced to levels under the OSHA PEL when a water spraying system in crushing machines was utilised, but not when a water cannon machine was used. Area samples at demolition and crushing sites indicate overall lower exposures than the PEL, however, bystander workers at crushing sites could be exposed to higher levels compared to demolition sites. Real-time dust monitoring during demolition indicate very high short-term peak exposures. Controlling or reducing crystalline silica exposures to levels under the new OSHA PEL of 50 µg/m3 remains challenging for chipping workers and crushing machine tenders. Even with the use of dust suppression controls, respiratory protection may be required for various tasks.

Authors: Bello A, Mugford C, Murray A, Shepherd S, Woskie SR. ; Full Source: Annals of Work Exposure & Health. 2018 Oct 31. doi: 10.1093/annweh/wxy089. [Epub ahead of print]