Construction workers encounter a multitude of threats on the job including gases, biological hazards, fumes, dusts, and fibers.1 Respirable silica dust is one of the most dangerous threats. Silica dust is produced and dispersed during milling, crushing, grinding, jackhammering, scraping, and blasting activities. The silica particles produced during these activities are so minute that even your body’s natural defenses, such as mucus in your throat, cannot prevent the particles from entering your lungs.2 Respirators, or “masks,” are sometimes used to protect workers from these particles. However, they are not a reliable defense against silica dust.


Types of Respirators

All respirators have an assigned protection factor (APF) indicating the level of safety each mask provides. The greater the number, the safer the mask. The highest APF a mask can have is 10,000. There are two major types of respirators: air-purifying and atmosphere-supplying. All atmosphere-supplying respirators have APFs of at least 1000. Air-purifying respirators have APFs ranging from 10 to 25.1 While APF helps categorize the potential effectiveness of masks, it is only relevant when the mask is in good condition and used properly. )
Types of Respirators (Source: OSHA)



The Shortcomings of Respirators

While respirators are designed to prevent respirable dust from being inhaled, they are far from a perfect solution. In order to filter dust properly, most respirators must be “fit tested”. This means the dust mask being worn needs to be professionally fit to each employees’ face. Some respirators with APF under 25 are unable to form a perfect fit. Even more advanced respirators may not form a complete seal due to facial hair or skin residue. In fact, most safety professionals believe that producing a perfect fit to each face is impossible. Respirators also have a limited life. The condition of the respirator is another important factor in its effectiveness – even minor wear can reduce the ability to prevent dust from reaching the airways. Additionally, many respirators include a carbon filter which is not effective in filtering out hazardous silica dust regardless of the APF. 1 If a respirator is not worn properly it is useless in protecting against respirable silica dust.4
Perhaps the most critical shortcoming of respirators is the hassle of requiring and implementing their use. Enforcing the use of PPE in the construction industry is a widespread challenge for employers5. Even when respirators are provided by employers, many employees choose not to use this form of dust protection.  When an employee does use a respirator consistently, specifically more than 30 days per year, employers must provide free, convenient medical surveillance for that employee6 .  This requirement adds a costly obstacle to respirator compliance. The innate inconvenience of respirators for both employees and employers makes this ineffective solution even less utilized in day-today operations.

Why Does OSHA Recommend Respirators?

OSHA’s most recent update to their silica regulations was enacted on March 24, 2016, with full enforcement going into effect September 23, 2017. The updates include Table 1 which outlines requirements and recommendations for engineering controls in various dust-producing activities. OSHA mandates the use of respirators when dust producing activities occur in enclosed spaces and when there is potential for heavy dust production. Respirators are also recommended anytime airborne dust is present. By layering engineering controls with the use of respirators, the intent is to reduce worker exposure to hazardous respirable airborne dust.


But, what if we can prevent respirable dust from becoming airborne to begin with?


The Simplest Silica Dust Solution

NeSilex is a unique solution designed to enhance water’s ability to control respirable silica dust completely. Adequately suppressing hazardous respirable particles from becoming airborne prevents these particles from reaching respiratory cavities and being inhaled. Independent testing of NeSilex added to water for dust suppression has shown up to 100% reduction in respirable silica in some dust producing activities, depending on the activity and environmental factors. When we can prevent silica dust from becoming airborne, we no longer need to rely on respirators as a primary safeguard for protection.


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1 Assigned Protection Factors for the Revised Respiratory Protection Standard. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Published 2009. Accessed July 1, 2019.

2 Dust off those masks: The dangers of silica dust. Szerelmey. Publishing date not available. Accessed July 1, 2019.

3 Respirable Crystalline Silica- Table 1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Published March 24, 2016. Accessed July 1, 2019.

4 What Construction Employees Need to Know About Respirators. Utility Contractor. Published December 4, 2013. Accessed July 2, 2019.

5 Ways to Get Workers to Use Personal Protective Equipment.

6 Appendix B to § 1926.1153 – Medical Surveillance Guidelines.