Exposure to Crystalline Silica at Alberta Work Sites: Review of Controls
From 2009 to 2013, Alberta Jobs, Skills, Training, and Labour (JSTL) conducted a project to evaluate exposure to crystalline silica and assess controls to protect workers. Information on exposure results has been previously reported; this article discusses the data collected on workplace controls.
Information on work site controls was collected during exposure assessments consisting of qualitative information on controls in place and used by workers at the time of the assessments. Where there was sufficient data, the information was further analyzed to evaluate the impact of a particular control.
While many types of controls were observed, they were not always effective or in use. The control available most often was respiratory protective equipment (RPE). Generally, when respirators were used, they were correctly selected for the level of measured exposure. However, not all workers who were potentially overexposed wore respirators at the time of the assessments. When the use of respirators was taken into account, about one-third of workers were still potentially exposed over the Alberta occupational exposure limit. The industries with the highest levels of exposure tended to be those with the most unprotected workers. Issues were identified with the use of improper work practices such as dry cleaning methods, lack of documented work procedures, poor housekeeping, and lack of training which may have contributed to worker exposure levels.
There is a wide range in the efficacy of controls, particularly engineering controls. Most of the literature focuses on engineering controls; however administrative controls also play a role in reducing worker exposure. Data collected in this work indicated that simple changes to work procedures and behavior (such as improved housekeeping) may be effective, low-cost ways to reduce workplace exposure. More study is required to evaluate the impact and efficacy of administrative controls such as housekeeping and training. Employers must select and evaluate controls in the context of overall workplace health and safety programs and ensure that they are supported by supervision, good work practices. and training.