Using Technology for Silica Dust Detection
How real-time data could be the beginning of the end for occupational silicosis.
By: Glyn Pierce-Jones, Contributor
Silica dust is deadly. This we know and have known for at least 150 years. Looking at the statistics, you can see how serious a problem this is:
- There are an estimated 40-50 million workers in the world who are exposed to silica dust every day—more than 5 million of these workers are in the U.S.
- 450,000 deaths are recorded each year in the U.S. from dust-related diseases contracted after exposure in the workplace, and silica dust is likely to be a contributing factor in many of these deaths.*
- Silica dust is considered as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than asbestos. This is not surprising when you consider that asbestos is in fact just one of the many forms of silica.
Unfortunately, silica is everywhere: in sand, stone, bricks, glass, mortar, ceramics, clay, concrete—and pretty much every building material and process industry you can name. And yet there has never been a way to accurately and reliably monitor for the presence of silica dust. Until now.
Trolex, a family-owned UK company, have led the development of an innovative technology that is capable of detecting and differentiating silica dust in real-time, even in complex dust mixtures and where concentrations and forms of silica vary over time. The technology has been deployed in a unit that requires almost zero maintenance; needs no specialist skills to operate; and is delivered at an affordable cost to the industry.
This technology changes everything in relation to the threat of silica dust, giving businesses the capability to provide instant warning to workers who are in danger. It allows them to take back control of their response to the threat of silica dust and to save money in the bargain.
Benefits of Real-Time Data
The benefits of real-time data on the presence of harmful silica dust are many and varied. The most obvious and immediate benefit is improving safety for those potentially exposed to silica in the workplace. By providing warnings in real-time, either through local alarms or via networked systems, this technology provides an immediate, actionable incentive to respond instantly to the danger, in exactly the same way that the majority of workers are trained and willing to respond to a fire alarm or a gas detection system. When allied with clear HR controls and procedures, and linked directly to regulated exposure levels for silica, this tech can stop every worker from being exposed to levels of silica above the regulated limits.
The move to real-time silica monitoring has the potential to allow businesses and individuals to develop better, more responsive critical control structures in the operating environments where silica dust is generated. Instant data opens up many possibilities:
- Facilitating smart dust suppression, extraction, ventilation and control measures
- Identification of high-risk tasks within the workflow
- Improved field-based evidence to support best practices
- Supporting the selection and usage of the right type of RPE
- Optimising process methods and equipment to reduce exposure
Deploying this technology can also come with massive potential to cut costs and improve efficiency, including:
- Immediate identification of process breakdowns or inefficiency allowing the business to make corrections, repairs and improvements as they are required
- Continuous validation of RCS control and removal mechanisms allows smart systems to be developed and deployed
- Capital expenditure decisions related to hazardous particulate control and elimination can be based on real-time and continuous evaluation
- Minimization of material losses
- Reducing the frequency and length of surveys designed to meet regulatory requirements
- Reduction in maintenance costs and labour costs, as the unit is virtually. maintenance free and requires no specialist skills to operate
- Improved health outcomes, reduced sick days and long-term absences, as well as reduced health scheme and insurance premiums
One Family’s Story
“My grandfathers, great grandfathers, uncles and cousins all worked mining slate in Blaenau Ffesiniog in North Wales. Arawn and Ieuan. Dai and Dewi. Merfyn and Maldwyn.
And it’s here that many of them died, often as young as in their forties, from silicosis.
No health and safety. No silica detection and prevention. No chance.
We don’t want modern-day workers to suffer in the same way as my ancestors did, whether its construction workers, plasterers, miners, factory workers, stonemasons or tunnel builders.
This technology offers hope to people who previously had no hope of avoiding an unnecessary, painful and premature end to their lives, which is something I think everybody can celebrate.
Dyma i chi fechgyn! As they used to say in the back bar at the Miners Inn in Blaenau… (here’s to you boys!).”