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Tile Tools for the War On Silica Dust

Tile Tools for the War On Silica Dust

A lot of us have learned this trade from a mentor or family member. These veterans have all the tricks up their sleeves. I like hearing the old saying, “I taught him everything he knows, but not everything I know.” They have the knowledge, the experience, and the work ethic that have carried this industry to what it is today. An industry of floor covering that is surpassed by none in longevity and durability. The tiles installed in original stone structures of the Holy Land are still unchanged and serving their purpose; because of a veteran teaching a journeyman.

While the trade of tile installation gives endlessly to us for our families and our livelihood, she also steals a bit of health. Our hands crack, our knees ache and our backs need a minute longer to recover with large format tiles being added to the saw deck. What we don’t always think about is what is happening on the inside. How many of the previous generation have you heard coughing and starting to struggle to catch their breath? A product of age or exacerbated by our industry?

Silica dust. You may or may not know the term. If you’ve been in the industry for any amount of time, you’ve been made aware of the dangers of silica sand in the materials you work with. Companies are advertising “silica free” to encourage tile contractors to purchase theirs instead. Not only do they want you to purchase their silica sand free product, over the competition, manufacturers want to bring an awareness of the dangers of silica sand on the body. OSHA, the guys we all know and love, have published standards for exposure to silica for an 8 hour work day. Educating your employees and yourself about acceptable levels of silica particles in your work space can lead you to start asking questions and understanding the importance of protecting your guys and yourself. 

What is silica and what does it matter? In most of the materials tile contractors work with daily; tile, stone, concrete, mortar, grout, etc., silica is a naturally occurring quartz in the genetic makeup of these materials. A result of the cut on tile and stone, or pour and mix on mortars and grouts, cause the silica dust, or silica sand, to be released into the air.  Microscopic particles of the silica are inhaled and pass through to your lungs, where they lodge permanently. The more exposure, the more scarring and disease you will see in a long time tile contractor or mason. It can come from grinding concrete, cutting tile or mixing up your muds. Once these respirable crystalline silica particles lodge in the lungs, they can not be removed. Diseases, permanent damage diseases, result from this scarring such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. Inhaled silica sand causes fibrosis or scar tissue, as well as silicosis lung disease, both of which reduce the lungs’ ability to extract oxygen from the air. There is no cure and they can be fatal.  

Knee pads are an obvious purchase for our industry because we want to protect our knees. You can feel the damage from your carefree early days, or see it on your mentor, so we naturally understand we want to prevent that in our body. What you can’t feel in the lungs is still happening. 

So what is our solution? Two options I would encourage you to to learn about are tile cutters and IQ Power Tools dry cut saws with integrated dust control. 

Fresh to the market is the iQ228CYCLONE. The first 7” dry cut tabletop saw with integrated dust control. This guy is built with 4 dust cyclones and a vacuum motor, collecting 99.5% of the dust off your cut. One single 15 amp can run both the saw, and the vacuum, keeping you running in any job site condition. The saw itself is completely portable, requiring no water, and it weighs in at 36 lbs, making it a breeze to set up in your work zone. The built in vacuum is adding protection to your body, and pulling debris from the cut, reducing friction and heat on the blade. This is giving you a cleaner cut and extending the life of your saw. 

If you prefer a waterless tile saw with the precision and versatility of a wet saw, I recommend checking out the iQTS244 10” dry cut tile saw.  With a set up time of about 30 seconds and a cleanup time of 1 minute, it is easy to see the time saving value that this reliable tool provides.  The savings and value becomes even more obvious for those of you working in multi-level buildings on a regular basis.  The iQTS244 even converts to a dolly which is a thoughtful portability function by iQ Power Tools. Most importantly, the vacuum technology designed into this saw is effective at capturing 99.5% dust.

A second option for reducing your exposure is a tile cutter. Montolit and Sigma are both trusted brands that have a variety of cutter sizes to tackle any project we can lay. By scoring and snapping, we are reducing dust particles from entering the air. Montolit tile cutters are portable and require no water. I will assure you that with a Montolit tile cutter and a Diamond Hand Polishing pad, you can make faster and cleaner cuts than you can with most wet saws.

For dealing with mixing, I highly encourage guys to pick up the Dust Hog vacuum attachment and a good auto cleaning HEPA filter like the Fein Turbo II Xl. The Dust Hog is a $30 tool that fits any bucket and catches airborne silica particles as they are dispersed into the air from dumping grouts and mortars into a bucket. There is nothing wrong with doing the full mask and safety gear recommended by OSHA, but a Dust Hog is something you and your guys are much more likely to use all of the time.

For those of you who do alot of demo and floor grinding, I recommend you take a look at the iQ426HEPA Cyclonic Dust Extractor. This beast can hook up to any of your demo equipment with dust shrouds. It has a two stage cyclonic filtration process that pulls particles from the air. Because of the construction of the filter, any size debris can be removed and contained. It maintains suction pressure without clogging, meaning that less than 1% of the dust ever reaches the filter. This gives the filter a longer life and once again, removes silica sand from the jobsite. Giving your lungs the best work conditions.

You are responsible for your reputation. Take care of the body that earns that reputation. Get that protection. Do what you can to change your future. Tile on.

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