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Don't Let Respirable Silica Dust You

Fri, 02/14/2014 - 11:56 -- Donny Beaver

Don’t Let Respirable Silica Dust You

By Donny Beaver, Co-Founder & CEO, HalenHardy

The potentially serious health consequences of respirable silica dust long have been known throughout such industries as mining, sandblasting, drilling, demolition and concrete cutting. Now, the rapid growth of the shale gas industry, which uses massive amounts of silica sand for the hydraulic fracturing of wells, has focused new attention — including intense scrutiny from the federal government — on the dangers of respirable silica dust. In June 2012, OSHA and NIOSH issued a joint hazard alert “on ensuring workers in hydraulic fracturing operations have appropriate protections from silica exposure.”

One of the most insidious of those dangers is contamination of workers’ clothing; if the microscopic silica shards aren’t removed, workers will wear that contaminated clothing during work breaks, at lunch and in their vehicles at the end of their work shift, potentially compounding the noxious effects: it’s what we call the “Pig Pen Effect.”
NIOSH studies show that workers’ respirable silica exposure levels can increase by 1,000% to 1,600% when they remove their protective respirator (to go on break or at the end of the work shift) while dust remains on their work clothing. Once the respirator is removed, all it takes is the simple act of a worker brushing dust from hardhat, shoulders, chest and upper arms, releasing the microscopic respirable silica directly into workers’ “breathing zone” (the 12-inch radius sphere of air space surrounding the workers’ mouth and nose).

Studies reveal that just one “brushing off” event near the breathing zone (without respiratory PPE) can create, in the matter of three to five seconds, exposure levels that far exceed the OSHA eight-hour Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL).

Historically, solutions to the problem of contaminated clothing typically have involved time-consuming vacuuming with HEPA-filtered vacuums or fixed, bulky cleansing units that may be capital intensive, require frequent repair and move too slowly for a sizable workforce. We founded our company, HalenHardy, to address this problem in a more compelling way.

Our answer: the MASHH Mobile Air Shower by HalenHardy, which cleanses workers with air showers in a matter of seconds. Moreover, HalenHardy owns the units and is responsible for set-up, redeployment, monitoring and any necessary maintenance. Our customers buy only the service, which represents a substantial savings over current, time-consuming or fixed-unit approaches.

Silicosis — Progressive, Irreversible 
When microscopic silica dust shards are inhaled, they often become imbedded deep in the lungs and can cause silicosis, a progressive, irreversible and incurable disease, as well as other illnesses such as COPD and congestive heart failure.
I became aware of the respirable silica dust issue during the 1970s and 1980s when I owned Sermac, which specialized in cleaning up hazardous industrial dusts including asbestos, lead, cadmium and silica. Protecting Sermac workers was our main priority. After speaking with many industrial health and safety colleagues in the Marcellus Shale Coalition about the problem, I became convinced that I could use my experience to protect workers at frac sites. My partner, Carl Cohen, and I founded HalenHardy to do just that. We formed the company in western Pennsylvania in January 2013; six months later, we introduced the MASHH unit.

MASHH Mobile Air Shower by HalenHardy – An Indispensable Tool
As workers step into the MASHH unit, the 32 square-foot (4’ x 8’) unit showers them with blasts of air that helps cleanse them from a substantial portion of silica dust. A strong vacuum pulls the contaminated air into a certified HEPA filter for scrubbing so that exhausted air is greater than 99% pure. When disposed, filters are treated with a mix of water and a soy-based binding agent to prevent dust from escaping. The MASHH Mobile Air Shower offers a number of advantages over current clothes cleaning approaches, including:

• Protecting workers by removing a substantial amount of respirable silica dust from worker clothing (especially near their breathing zones).

• Offering a quicker and more effective method than other currently acceptable cleaning practices. NIOSH recently pointed out that air shower systems consisting of a cleaning booth, compressed air reservoir, spray manifold and an exhaust air “system are 10 times faster and removed 50% more dust from clothes than vacuuming…”

• Helping safeguard companies from future liability by demonstrating a proactive approach to worker protection

• Providing a no fuss, no muss turnkey service. MASHH units are quickly and easily rolled out and redeployed by HalenHardy.

Comprehensive Silicosis Prevention Program Needed
While the MASHH Mobile Air Shower by HalenHardy is effective in removing dust from workers’ clothing, respirable silica dust can only be adequately addressed by a combination of management commitment to implementation, occupational health program implementation, medical surveillance, dust exposure assessments, dust control engineering, administrative controls, personal protective equipment (including regularly fit-tested respirators), smoking cessation, ongoing respirable dust training and unrelenting worker involvement & commitment in addition to a mobile air shower. While a mobile air shower is essential it will not on its own protect workers against the risks of breathing in respirable silica dust.

Feel free to contact me (dbeaver@halenhardy.com) if you have any questions about the MASHH unit. Better still, join us at the Shale Insight Conference in Philadelphia on September 24-26; we’ll be presenting, and we would welcome the opportunity to experience firsthand how the MASHH unit removes dangerous respirable dusts from workers’ clothing.
To learn more about the dangers of respirable dusts on workers’ clothes and view the MASHH unit in action, visit www.mashh.com
© 2013 Donald Beaver – HalenHardy, LLC – All rights reserved.