Construction workers face many hazards associated with their industry, not the least of which is the danger of being exposed to respirable crystalline silica on a regular basis. Long-term silica exposure can lead to workers developing a dangerous disease called silicosis. This lung disease can lead to breathing difficulties and, in the worst of cases, disability or even death. Workers who operate hand-operated grinders have been shown to, on average, have the greatest risk for silica exposure in tuckpointing/mortar removal.
This type of work involves the use of handheld angle grinders which allow workers to renovate or remove deteriorating mortar in brick, concrete, or stone block buildings (referred to as tuckpointing/mortar removal). Tuckpointing/mortar removal results in large amounts of silica dust being generated. These small particles—sometimes naked to the human eye—can then be inhaled by workers. Silica inhalation can lead to inflammation and scarring to the lungs, along with the possible development of silicosis.
It is critical for employers to provide their employees with the appropriate safety equipment and training to control their amount of silica exposure during tuckpointing/mortar removal. One common method for this is employing vacuum dust collection (VDC) systems to pull in as much silica dust as possible. Unfortunately, the even more effective wet grinding method is not typically appropriate in tuckpointing, because wet methods may lead to a slurry consisting of mortar dust and water being deposited on the brick, or even damage being done to the interior structure of the building. Another unfortunate construction industry truth is that VDC systems are not as widely used in the tuckpointing process as they should be.
Respiratory protection in the form of half- or full-facepieces or respirators will typically be necessary with VDC systems. Using both the VDC systems and respiratory protectors can greatly reduce a workers’ risk of silica exposure. Companies who employ these safety steps must be sure to develop and maintain relevant written policies setting out these standards. Employee training is also critical to make sure these policies are properly implemented. Also, workers who are not actually operating the angle grinders but are working in close proximity to those machines may also need to wear proper respiratory protection gear. Companies must additionally take the necessary actions to monitor their employees’ silica exposure levels, and this should occur on an ongoing basis.
Workers who find they have suffered injury after silica exposure in tuckpointing/mortar removal may find themselves facing the high costs associated with medical expenses and lost wages. Fortunately, workers’ compensation laws provide them the opportunity to seek financial reimbursement from their employers. They may further have the right to file third-party personal injury lawsuits in the event of defective safety equipment against the party whose negligent product caused or contributed to their injury. Our personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm can provide valuable information related to an injured workers’ rights; or, in the tragic event of a worker’s death, knowledge to any surviving family members who wish to seek civil justice.
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Source: OSHA-NIOSH document regarding tuckpointing/mortar removal and silica exposure