Creating beautiful countertops can be difficult work—not only does it involve carrying and manipulating heavy slabs of stone, but it can also present a number of hazards. Specifically, quartz countertops are notorious for having dust that can cause respiratory issues and significantly reduce air quality when cut. NPR recently did an investigation into this ever-present threat in our industry, and our owner Paul Memminger recently spoke with their reporter about the steps we take to keep our workforce safe.
Quartz Countertops & Silica Dust
Quartz countertops are an immensely popular alternative to traditional granite. While granite is sensitive to heat and chipping with heavy impacts, quartz countertops are more durable and less impacted by some of the day to day hazards of at-home countertop use. Likewise, in some cases they’re actually more affordable than traditional granite because they are a synthetic and manufactured material rather than a naturally-occurring one.
Quartz countertops arrive at the factory in large sacks in a ground-up powder form, weighing roughly 100 pounds each. Many of these sacks contain quartz that has been ground up into a flower-like consistency, while others contain quartz that’s in a sort of pebble-like state. After being mixed with pigments for coloring and a binding agent that sticks the quartz together, the dough-like mixture is placed onto a giant cookie sheet and then into an oven where it bakes into the solid slabs that are polished and used to build countertops.
However, this quartz dust contains an extremely high concentration of the mineral silica—nearly twice the concentration of natural granite and many other countertop materials. Breathing this mineral silica dust damages the lungs and can cause a disease known as silicosis. The risk has become a well-known and worrying hazard in the industry. While the manufacturing process certainly exposes workers to the threat of silica dust, those who build countertops from the manufactured quartz slabs are also at risk for exposure through the cutting process.
How We Keep Our Workers Safe
However, cutting quartz countertops is safe when proper precautionary measures and worker protection laws are followed closely. That’s exactly what we do here at Capitol Granite. In talking with Nell Greenfield-Boyce, Paul Menninger explained just how far we go in order to avoid exposing workers to the hazard that is silica dust.
For starters, Capitol Granite does almost all slab cutting using a computer-controlled cutting machine rather than cutting by hand. This not only yields a more accurate and precise-fitting cut for your new countertops, but reduces the chances for human error. It also takes cutters away from where most of the heavy cutting is happening and prevents them from being exposed to the dust at all.
Capitol Granite also does not do any dry cutting. Dry cutting is simply using cutting tools to cut through stone slabs—an old-school process that creates an immense amount of silica dust that infiltrates the air. Wet cutting uses water to keep both tools and materials cool while also suppressing silica dust. Rather than releasing into the air, the wet dust simply falls to the ground and becomes a muddy slurry that’s easily and quickly disposed of. Capitol Granite’s wet cutting process uses up to 35 gallons of water per minute on the cutting blade in order to keep silica dust down to an absolute minimum. “That’s the only way you can eliminate any risk affiliated with silicosis in the shop,” Menninger told NPR. He even said that if he had the ability, he’d make dry cutting illegal across the country.
However, for those operating enclosed machines and doing simple touch-up work where dust isn’t a factor, workers at Capitol Granite don’t need respirators or masks. Menninger is so confident that his workers in these roles are safe that he even had OHSA to the factory to run air quality tests. However, the stonecutting industry is unregulated, and Menninger is concerned about a number of smaller shops that OSHA never makes it out to.
If you want quartz or granite countertops of the highest quality and that come from a builder that’s dedicated to safety and your satisfaction, then trust the pros from Capitol Granite! Dial (804) 265-4751 today or stop by our showroom to find out more about what we can do to improve your kitchen or bathrooms!