The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recently published a new study that finds a low cost solution to harmful silica dust. Inhaling silica dust, which is commonly found in fiber-cement siding, can lead to a lung disease called silicosis, which is deadly. While silicosis is preventable now, it's estimated that 100 people still die from it each year.
The study shows that by attaching a regular shop vaccuum to a dust-collecting circular saw can reduce exposure to the hazardous dust produced when cutting fiber-cement siding. NIOSH lead researcher on the project, Chaolong Qi, Ph.D. said that by "Implementing this intervention, with a tool these workers are already likely to have available to them, can protect workers from a potentially deadly disease." With just the use of a common shop vacuum, the study concluded that the level of silica-containing dust was held well below the exposure limit to crystalline silica that NIOSH recommends, which is 0.05 mg/m3.
Other recommendations that NIOSH makes to reduce silica dust exposure:
- Shop vacuum should have an air flow rate of 30 CFM and a hose connected to the saw
- The hose should be 1.25 inches or larger in diameter
- Use a high efficiency disposable filter bag
- Use an intelligent vacuum switch, which turns the vacuum on and off as needed to reduce uncontrolled dust release. Aftermarket devices can be purchased if yours does not currently have one
- The circular saw you should use should have a built in dust collection container that can easily be connected to a shop vacuum
- The saw blade tip should be made of poly-crystalline diamond (PCD), which are designed to cut fiber-cement siding
This gives me more confidence in OSHA that they are looking for practical, everyday fixes to common problems that don't take a lot of money or training to implement. I look forward to more common sense solutions in the future.