How to Minimize Dust Exposure in Shotcrete Placement

Dust generation may seem to be part and parcel of any construction job and nothing to worry about but long-time exposure and inhalation of dust can lead to damaging health effects especially when working in tunnels and mining jobs.

Let’s first look into factors that cause excess dust and how we can avoid or reduce them. Take for instance, the process of building tunnels. It requires going through a series of steps that generate huge amounts of dust: drilling, namely: blasting, crushing, extracting and shotcrete. While the first four processes have to control the dust generated and remove it from the atmosphere through special ventilation, water sprays and dust collectors, shotcrete placement doesn’t.  However, hiring a shotcrete crew that is experienced in working underground will minimize dust generation because they will know how to control it at the source.

Silica

Where is silica found:
Silica is found in asphalt, brick, cement, concrete, drywall, grout, mortar, stone, sand, and tile. OSHA regulation 29 CFR 1926.55(a) requires that exposures must be below a Permissible Exposure Level (PEL) of 0.1 mg/m3. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has a lower Recommended Exposure Level of 0.05 mg/m3.

Health risks from exposure to Silica:
Repeated exposure to cement dust will lead to irritation to eye, nose, throat and upper respiratory system. When skin is directly exposed to cement, further irritation can occur and skin cracking can result from chemical burns. Rinse eyes or skin with water and soap if it comes into contact with cement dust and if the burning continues consult a doctor.

Another serious risk for workers is lung injuries from Silica exposure. This can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, tuberculosis and Silicosis. There are about 3,600 to 7,300 new cases of silicosis every year. Note: This is a progressive illness that will continue to worsen even after exposure to silica has stopped. While it may take years for these diseases to show up, workers should be on the lookout for certain symptoms like a chronic dry cough and shortness of breath. These disabling, irreversible and at times fatal diseases occur when silica particles are inhaled by workers. As a result, nodules start growing and can become so large that they impede normal breathing.

concrete safety

Dust Control Checklist

How to protect your crew:
1. Prevent dust from being released in the air by using water or vacuums at the source.
2. When water and vacuums are not available use a respirator.
3. Replace sand with aluminum oxide for blasting.
4. Use a wet abrasive blaster that mixes water with media before leaving the nozzle.
5. Avoid eating, drinking and smoking in dusty area to reduce, wash face and hands first.
6. Use disposable clothing or wash work clothes at the work site.
7. Shower and change into clean clothes before leaving the job site to avoid contamination.
8. Do a periodic lung screening.

With over 40 years of experience in the industry, we know the importance of safety at work. We also know that using the right pump for the job means even greater safety, better results and more savings in the long run. So if you are looking for a great deal on concrete or plaster pumps, give us a call at (503)283-2105  or visit our website.

Additional reading:
Concrete Safety procedures
Maintenance Tips for gunite
Work Safely with Silica 

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