Mines can now monitor worker exposure to hazardous respirable crystalline silica (RCS) more effectively thanks to new software developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mining Program in beta version. This novel, field-based tool called the Field Analysis of Silica Tool (FAST), works together with commercially available Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) analyzers to determine a worker’s exposure to RCS dust, providing detailed results immediately following a worker’s shift.
Mineworkers face the danger of potential overexposure to respirable crystalline silica dust every day. Overexposure can lead to the development of diseases such as silicosis, lung cancer, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (commonly known as black lung), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These diseases are disabling, irreversible, and potentially fatal.
Key to controlling RCS at mines is the ability to quickly assess the degree of exposure. Traditional methods require mines to send samples to a commercial laboratory for analysis and wait for the results to be returned. Because the conditions in mines change constantly, however, immediate RCS results are needed to establish when and where high concentrations exist and to ensure that, when they do, they do not persist across shifts. The new software coupled with the FTIR analyzer allows for these immediate results.
“FAST provides a vital link for mines seeking better RCS monitoring tools by bringing the laboratory to the field,” said NIOSH Associate Director for Mining Jessica Kogel.
The FAST software is designed to work in concert with an easily implemented monitoring approach also developed by NIOSH, which uses portable FTIR analyzers and dust-sampling cassettes at the mine site.
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