Throughout history, people have used every imaginable substance to build structures. From straw and tin to steel and concrete, they vary in density, availability, and longevity. Among the most common and high performing is brick.
Construction in Colonial America made brick a centerpiece of construction on the East Coast. That trend moved west in the 19th century and continues today as contractors often pair stucco, siding, and brick for modern home exteriors. Chances are, if you’re a homeowner or renovator, you have had to deal with brick – and you know how difficult brick can be to get through.
Here we discuss brickwork with both the DIY homeowners and the professional – what brick dust is and how to protect your lungs from it.
Dealing With Masonry
The idea behind building with brick is fairly simple – support it, mortar it, stack it, and repeat. What is difficult is when it comes time for that brick to be renovated. Because it is so hard, it can be a pain to cut or drill through. Over time, weathering and general structure pressure will cause bricks to crack and mortar to fall out. This often involves removing mortar and bricks and replacing them.
For an exterior wall, that’s not so hard. When you deal with interior walls, it’s a whole new ballgame. Using a grinder on the mortar or the brick will send dust flying in every direction.
You need a method to control it. Often when working with hard materials, such as brick or concrete, a wet grinder or saw can be used to dampen the dust – but again, working inside is entirely different.
We work using dust control systems. There are a lot of them on the market, and we encourage you to find a dust control system that works for you. If you are doing a one time job, it is going to save your house from being covered in dust and saving you time in cleanup. If you are working professionally, your customers – and your body – will thank you later.
The Dangers of Brickwork
The biggest threat when working on brick is actually what you breathe in. Silicon dioxide, or silica, is a naturally occurring compound found in rocks – including mortar and brick. It is typically an nonreactive substance, so when relatively undisturbed the silica will retain its crystal structure; however, when it gets hit by a blade from a saw or grinder, that crystal structure is pulverized. With its structure shattered, the silica is released into the air as a microscopic particle that you breathe in.
Once breathed in, the silica passes through your upper airways, down your trachea, and into the lungs. Once inside the lungs, the particles are so small, they arrive at the smallest air sacs within your lungs, where your body actually absorbs the oxygen you breathe in. In essence, the silica blocks up these tiny air sacs, which make breathing harder and harder with more build up. You have less and less breathing room, your lung tissue turns into scar tissue, and silica acts as a carcinogen – or cancer causing agent. Your life span is slowly shortened. After years of breathing it in, a person can be medically diagnosed with silicosis. You can learn more about this disease on OSHA’s silicosis page.
That sounds like a terrible fate – but it can be prevented with proper safety equipment and a dust control system.
What We Recommend
First step of any job, you want some safety glasses or goggles. Get a quality pair that not only covers the front of your eyes, but wraps all the way around the eye socket. If you want to be extra careful, OSHA approved safety goggles provide one-way fog ventilation and cover your entire eye space.
A complete dust control system contains dust and protects your lungs.
Second, you need a dust mask, and not just any one will do. Silica is a micro particle that will bypass most standard respiration masks. Look into a class 100 respirator (N100, R100, or P100), which will block silica particles.
Lastly, the dust control system. Even with a fully functioning dust control system, you should still wear glasses and a respirator. A dust control system typically consists of the following items:
- A tool
- A dust shroud
- A HEPA vacuum
Choose Your Tool: When using an angle grinder, you will want a diamond blade. If you are doing more ground based masonry work, gas powered cutoff saws will do the trick. For drilling, use a masonry bit.
Dust Shrouds: There are a variety of dust shrouds on the market. Find one that suits your purpose. Our CutBuddie is ideal as an angle grinder dust shroud. Use our DustBull and DustBuddie for Flatwork when doing hardscaping or flatwork, and the BitBuddie when drilling and coring concrete. These are the vessels that hook onto your tool and capture the dust.
CutBuddie for cutting and tuck-pointing with angle grinders
Vacuum System: First thing, you need a certified HEPA vacuum. HEPA vacuums don’t just filter out dust – they filter out most every particle including bacteria, asbestos, lead – and silica. Expensive as they seem, not only will a HEPA vac protect your lungs, but your jobsite from OSHA fines (if you are a professional).
CFM (cubic feet per minute), is the most important measurement when picking out a vacuum. The higher the CFM, the more air is going to be pulled through your vacuum. For every inch of blade you use, your vacuum system should have 25 CFM. For example, a 5” grinder should use a 125 CFM vacuum or higher. When using a larger cutting setup, such as a cutoff saw, you will most likely need a larger vacuum system or two vacuums hooked together. Our D0016 kit allows two wet dry vacuums to be hooked up together.
Wrapping It Up
That is a lot of information, but we have put together an interactive Silica Tool to help you determine what the optimal setup is for your job. Free to use, just plug in your job details and it will tell you what to use. You can find it at www.dustlesstools.com/osha/. Lastly, if you have any questions on how to deal with brick, silica, and setting up an optimal dust control system, just give us a call at (435) 637-5885 – we would be happy to provide advice!