Exposure to crystalline silica in abrasive blasting operations where silica and non-silica abrasives are used.Ann Occup Hyg. 2014 Jan; 58(1):19-27.AO
Exposure to respirable crystalline silica is a hazard common to many industries in Alberta but particularly so in abrasive blasting. Alberta occupational health and safety legislation requires the consideration of silica substitutes when conducting abrasive blasting, where reasonably practicable. In this study, exposure to crystalline silica during abrasive blasting was evaluated when both silica and non-silica products were used. The crystalline silica content of non-silica abrasives was also measured. The facilities evaluated were preparing metal products for the application of coatings, so the substrate should not have had a significant contribution to worker exposure to crystalline silica. The occupational sampling results indicate that two-thirds of the workers assessed were potentially over-exposed to respirable crystalline silica. About one-third of the measurements over the exposure limit were at the work sites using silica substitutes at the time of the assessment. The use of the silica substitute, by itself, did not appear to have a large effect on the mean airborne exposure levels. There are a number of factors that may contribute to over-exposures, including the isolation of the blasting area, housekeeping, and inappropriate use of respiratory protective equipment. However, the non-silica abrasives themselves also contain silica. Bulk analysis results for non-silica abrasives commercially available in Alberta indicate that many contain crystalline silica above the legislated disclosure limit of 0.1% weight of silica per weight of product (w/w) and this information may not be accurately disclosed on the material safety data sheet for the product. The employer may still have to evaluate the potential for exposure to crystalline silica at their work site, even when silica substitutes are used. Limited tests on recycled non-silica abrasive indicated that the silica content had increased. Further study is required to evaluate the impact of product recycling on crystalline silica content for non-silica abrasives. Measurement of blaster exposure was challenging in this study as the blasters evaluated conducted this task intermittently throughout the work shift, frequently removing their blasting helmets. In spite of the challenges in accurately measuring blaster exposure, the measurements were still, for the most part, over the 8-h OEL. Further work is required to develop more effective sampling strategies to evaluate blaster exposure over the full work shift when task-based monitoring is not practical.