Silicosis, a respiratory condition caused by the inhalation of silica dust, is fairly unknown by the public—yet affects up to 7,300 U.S. construction workers every year. Silicon dioxide, or silica, is a chemical compound found in materials regularly in the construction industry, including sandstone, granite, brick and concrete. In the workplace, these materials create dust when they are cut, sanded and carved. When fine enough, this dust can be inhaled by construction workers, causing health problems including silicosis and bronchitis.
The quantity of silica contained in most materials can be estimated within 20 percent. Sandstone has silica content between 70 and 90 percent, and there is between 30 and 45 percent silicon dioxide in tile. However, in concrete, the silica content can be anywhere between 25 and 70 percent, so it is difficult to estimate what protection measures are necessary for each job.