Canadian Rental Service

What went Hong: Preventing exposure

By James Hong   

Features Government and regulatory jobsite rental safety silica dust

The BCCSA’s new silica control tool can prevent dangerous exposures.

One of the most dangerous materials found on all sizes of construction sites, crystalline silica dust is created by abrasive actions from tools coming into contact with stone, rock, concrete, brick, block and mortar. In 2017, it was reported that approximately 380,000 Canadians are exposed to silica at work with estimates increasing exponentially as cities struggle to keep up with the growing demands for habitation. Regulation outlines the requirement for exposure control training, control measures and safe-work practices and procedures based on the upper limit of possible exposure. This calculation requires sampling to measure airborne silica.

Until recently, wearable dust monitors were the only method for sampling, requiring a certified industrial hygiene specialist or other trained specialists to advise as to the best sampling technique and to obtain dust samples with wearable dust monitoring samplers within inches of the employee’s mouth for eight hours. The sample is then sent to a certified laboratory to determine the silica dust level, at which time the regulated exposure control measures are implemented.

The B.C. Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) has announced the silica control tool, an alternative to direct sampling by the employer. This is indeed a very good step for the construction industry. In some cases this tool is a means to use previously collected data for implementing exposure control measures without the need for sampling.

The tool guides the user through the assessment of risk from exposure, identification of the expected exposure, suggestions for appropriate controls, identification of expected exposure with the controls, PPE that may be required, and production of components of a related exposure control plan.


As we all know, more often than not, construction sites have a short duration of work with ongoing changes in work type and project requirements. This makes it very challenging to sample for respirable crystalline silica dust-producing activities. The silica control tool provides an invaluable safety measure to ensure employers meet their obligations and workers are protected. The standard approach to many worksite hazards is to rely on commonly accepted and used PPE guidelines. While these guidelines are and continue to be very reliable methods for protecting workers from harm, they were not meant for extreme dangers.

Extensive research on the effects of crystalline silica dust exposure have recorded that workers who inhale these particles are at increased risk of developing serious silica-related diseases, including silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death, lung cancer, COPD and kidney disease. These serious and life threatening illnesses can take years to develop by which time it would be almost impossible to identify the direct cause, leaving workers without any recourse or possibility for financial support to care for their illness.

I always return to the topic of the responsibility of employers for training their workforce and the rights of workers to refuse unsafe work and demand training and protection. The three-fold problem here is that employers often assign the lowest possible budgetary requirements for safety training; workers can be worried about losing their jobs; and, perhaps most importantly, workers cannot ask for their rights if they do not know what they are. Any steps to make it easier for employers to be compliant are steps in the right direction, as long as it doesn’t omit the science behind the issue.

The silica control tool full details can be found at 

Be safe. Be well. 

James Hong is an OHS consultant and writer for the construction industry.

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