Are You Protecting Against Respiratory Hazards?
The other day, as a contractor was demolishing some old concrete around my home, I noticed the abrasive saw puffing out a cloud of white dust. This cloud enveloped the machine operator and a few of the laborers that were on the site. It was a hot and humid day. I walked outside with a box of disposable NIOSH-approved (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) N95 respirator masks and asked the boss to hand them to the workers in the area. He laughed! “I have those on the truck, but it is too hot to make the guys wear them.” He added, “And they don’t do much good anyway. We always end up with this dust in our nose at the end of the day.”
A Simple Solution
I waved to the guy with the saw to shut it down. He did and wandered over with a few of the other workers. I handed each one a mask. I told them that I used to refinish and install hardwood flooring for a living. When I researched what we were breathing in on the job and learned about the respiratory hazards that were present, I required all my employees to wear a mask, and I set the example by wearing one myself. In fact, this is how my career in safety began. I developed a respiratory program for me and my workers with the help of a safety professional from a local distributor. This was back in the 70s!
I asked the boss if he knew what respiratory hazards they were being exposed to. Shaking his head, he just mumbled about the irritating paste that formed in his nose every day. I dug in a little deeper. Do you guys know what Silicosis is? Heads shook and one fellow said that it didn’t sound good. I jumped on the chance to drive my point home. Has anyone ever known someone who had to drag an oxygen tank around with them, connected to their nose with plastic tubes?
Crystalline Silica is a known carcinogen. A small amount of very fine silica dust creates a respiratory health hazard. It is found in most cement based building products, bricks, stones and pavement materials. Building products like drywall can contain silica. Silica is nasty in that it does not break down in your system and can seriously affect the respiratory system. Ingestion via the nose and mouth can be avoided with a simple, NIOSH approved dust mask. Hot or not, it is worth protecting yourself from this dangerous respiratory hazard. My employees, way back in the day appreciated me taking these precautions. Two of them are still in that business today and have developed Written Respiratory Programs based on the contaminants and concentrations they are exposed to on the job. I help them out every year with fit testing respirators and reviewing their Safety Data Sheets to ensure the cartridges are correct.
As I walked away from the concrete contractors that day, each worker and the boss were wearing the dust masks. Once in a while, the benefits of some safety experience truly pays off! Oh, the concrete patio turned out great, too!
Are you properly protected from respiratory hazards at work and home? What’s your safety story?