Worker exposure to marble dust: what are the risks to the respiratory system?

rischio polveri marmoThe lungs of workers are constantly exposed to risks related to the inhalation of airborne particles which can bring about diseases, more or less serious, depending on the quantity of particulate present at the workplace and the length of exposure to these harmful substances. People who work in dusty environments are highly exposed and need to protect themselves with appropriate means.

What are the risks posed by marble dust?

Marble is used in sculpture workshops, in construction work and for carving monuments and is also commonly used for the manufacture of tiles, false ceilings and interior partitions. As marble is a very hard substance, electric tools such as saws, drills, grinders and sanders are used to carve it and this type of marble processing generates dust which initially causes eye irritation and then progresses to diseases of the respiratory system. Marble quarry workers, sculptors and artisan carvers, as well as people living in areas adjacent to marble quarries are all prone to a disease called silicosis, caused by the silica dust released by marble during processing.

As marble dust is also abrasive, it can cause skin irritation which, in the long term, can lead to scleroderma, a rare but progressive disease that causes the hardening and shrinking of the skin and connective tissue and which is, aggravated by the presence of silica dust. While the silica dust content is not very high in natural marbles it tends to increase significantly in so-called “technical” or “artificial” marbles “.

Which precautions to take to avoid health problems?

The consequences of marble dust on human health are not to be underestimated, even though these can vary depending on the length of exposure. Workers exposed to marble dust need to take all the relative occupational health and safety legislation into serious account and, in particular, those standards which regulate dust generating processes.

One of the more appropriate precautions to be taken is the use of PPE and, more specifically, work gloves, which protect hands and arms while allowing freedom of movement. Appropriate coveralls should also to be worn as well as filtering devices and respirators certified to current standard. The selection of the most appropriate filtering devices to be used should be made considering the type of activity to be carried out and the dust concentration level at the workplace.

Filtering devices come in a wide range of powered and nonpowered, disposable and reusable, air purifying respirators as well as   supplied air respirators for use in industry which offer optimum protection even under the harshest working conditions while allowing ample freedom of movement on the job. Powered air purifying respirators equipped with helmets are respiratory protection solutions which offer the protection of the head, face, eyes and ears in addition to the respiratory tract. These respirators are equipped with battery powered blower units which filter contaminated air and convey it through a breathing tube to the inside of the helmet where a slight positive pressure builds-up preventing visor misting and facilitating breathing.