Toolbox Talks

Presented by Mark Solano, CHST. and the Laborers Training School

March 18, 2024

Toolbox Talks: The Importance of Respirator use to Protect Workers from Silica.

Respirator use is critically important for protecting workers from silica exposure in various industries such as construction, mining, manufacturing, and agriculture. Silica is a common mineral found in many materials like sand, stone, concrete, and mortar. When these materials are cut, drilled, or crushed, silica dust can be released into the air, posing serious health risks to workers if inhaled. Here are some key points highlighting the importance of respirator use:

1. Respiratory Health Protection: Silica dust particles are extremely small and can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Chronic exposure to silica dust can cause serious respiratory diseases such as silicosis, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Respirators create a barrier between the worker's respiratory system and the harmful dust, reducing the risk of inhalation and associated health problems.

2. Regulatory Compliance: Many countries have strict regulations and standards regarding silica exposure in the workplace. For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States has established permissible exposure limits (PELs) for silica dust. Employers are required to implement measures to control silica exposure, including the provision of appropriate respiratory protection when engineering controls are not sufficient.

3. Engineering Controls Alone May Not Be Sufficient: While engineering controls such as ventilation and wet methods (e.g., wet cutting or drilling) are effective in reducing silica dust levels, they may not always eliminate exposure entirely. In situations where engineering controls are inadequate or impractical, respirators serve as a critical supplementary measure to protect workers from inhaling silica dust.

4. Variety of Respirators Available: Depending on the level of exposure and specific work environment, various types of respirators can be used, including disposable respirators (such as N95 filtering facepiece respirators), reusable half-face or full-face respirators with appropriate filters, and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs). Employers should assess the workplace hazards and provide respirators that offer the appropriate level of protection.

5. Training and Fit Testing: Proper training on respirator selection, use, maintenance, and storage is essential for ensuring workers understand how to effectively use respirators. Fit testing is also crucial to ensure that respirators properly seal to the wearer's face, as an improper fit can compromise their effectiveness.

6. Personal Responsibility: While employers have a responsibility to provide suitable respiratory protection and ensure a safe work environment, workers also have a responsibility to use respirators correctly and consistently. This includes wearing respirators whenever there is a risk of silica exposure and properly maintaining them according to manufacturer guidelines.

In conclusion, respirator use is a vital component of comprehensive silica dust control strategies in the workplace. By implementing appropriate respiratory protection measures, employers can safeguard the health and well-being of their workers and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.


Mark Solano, CHST.

Laborers Training School Safety Officer

I entered the construction industry in the summer of 1979, faced with a choice from my father, who was president of Local 652 at the time: go to college or join the Laborers. I chose the Laborers.  

I attended the Laborers Training School in Anza during the summer of 1980. Throughout my career, I worked with several respected companies, including Granite, Silverado, and Full Traffic Maintenance. 

My passion for safety ignited during my time at Granite and I later assumed the role of Safety Manager at Griffith Company. This journey led me to serve on the subcommittee for Laborers Local 652 in Santa Ana in a management capacity.  

It was there that I first learned of the position of Safety Officer at the Laborers Training School. Recognizing it as my calling, I embraced the opportunity to be part of a program that imparts knowledge ,experience, and safety values to young apprentices. It's both an honor and privilege to serve Laborer Local unions and contractors across Southern California.

"The path of safety and service is a rewarding one, built on sharing knowledge, experiences, and shaping a safer tomorrow."