NIOSH has released a beta version of a software program designed to help mine operators monitor worker exposure to hazardous respirable crystalline silica (RCS). The field-based tool called “FAST” (Field Analysis of Silica Tool), works with commercially available Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) analyzers to determine a worker’s exposure to RCS dust immediately following a worker’s shift.
Overexposure to RCS can lead to the development of diseases such as silicosis, lung cancer, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (“black lung”) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These diseases are disabling, irreversible and potentially fatal.
According to NIOSH, one key to controlling exposure is the ability to quickly assess the degree of exposure. Traditionally, this involves sending samples to a commercial lab for analysis and waiting for the results. FAST coupled with the FTIR analyzer allows for immediate results to help mine operators know whether and where high concentrations exist so they the conditions do not persist across shifts.
NIOSH extensively lab tested the monitoring approach, then field tested it in the U.S. and internationally by collecting dust samples in coal mines as well as samples from other types of mines. This testing led to the release of the beta version of the software to allow for further user feedback.