Crystalline silica has always been an issue in the tile world, as well as the natural stone industry, although it may have not been discussed as much as it is now. It is a common mineral found in basic construction materials such as tile, stone, concrete, brick and mortar, which becomes dangerous when workers cut, grind, drill or crush these materials. Very small dust particles are produced, which are about 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you find on beaches and thus invisible to the human eye. These tiny particles, known as respirable particles, can travel deep into workers’ lungs over time and cause various health issues, including silicosis, an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.
Currently, about 2.2 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to silica in their workplaces, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The majority of these workers — around 1.85 million — are in the construction industry. In 2016, in an effort to improve worker protection and prevent the diseases caused by longtime silica exposure, OSHA proposed a new standard for permissible exposure limits (PELs) for silica in the construction industry, which hadn’t been updated since they were adopted in 1971.
The new standard includes provisions for measuring how much silica workers are exposed to, limiting workers’ access to areas where silica exposures are high, using effective methods for reducing exposures, providing medical exams to workers with high silica exposures, and training for workers about silica-related hazards and how to limit exposure.
Sarah Hurtado from iQ Power Tools discusses more about these issues and the new standard in our technical focus of this issue. “Tiles are not always the only culprit on the jobsite to pose exposure,” she explained. “Mixing mortar and grout can create a ‘dusty’ hazard, too. These products, generally produced using cement or sand aggregate, are also comprised of silica.”
Read more from Hurtado, who also recently spearheaded a cooperative, educational alliance between iQ Power Tools and the American Lung Association, which focuses on raising awareness of the dangers of silica dust on the jobsite.
In this edition, we also exposed some of the new technology we’ve observed in the industry — from the range of new products on the market to the different ways tile is being utilized for residential and commercial designs. Check out the range of new products available in our product showcase, and read more about an exclusive residence we discovered in Georgia, which used porcelain tile in an incredibly innovative way.
The possibilities of tile are limitless nowadays. No idea is too big or small.