October 15, 2014
Dry cutting is the main cause of dust when cutting stone.
Dry cutting is the main cause of dust when cutting stone.
LO members installing hardscapes deal every day with stone cutting, and the accompanying dust.

Large clouds of dust from dry cut saws raise safety concerns, high costs for clean up and neighbour complaints. Dust from the job site spreads everywhere, covering near-by vehicles, people and property.

But the dust produces more than a source of annoyance and aesthetic issues on neighbouring properties. Serious health effects, such as lung cancer or silicosis, can result from exposure to silica dust particles, which can penetrate deep into the lungs; damage may not appear until years after exposure.

LO member Ron Swentiski CLD, of Trillium Associates Landscape Design and Project Management in Thornhill, responded to a Toronto Star article on the installation of paver driveways and the effects of silica dust from dry cutting the stone.

“For the years that I have been in this business, I have yet to see any small or a medium-size landscape contractor make use of the water fitting on their saws,” says Swentiski.

Dust caused by dry cutting

Dry cutting is the main cause of dust when cutting stone. The traditional alternative to reduce the dust is wet cutting with adequate water supply. An informal survey by Landscape Ontario magazine showed every LO member who responded to the question, uses some form of wet cut.

“We use both dry cut and wet cut in our projects,” says Terry Childs of Nature’s Way Landscaping in Gananoque.  He estimates that 60 to 70 per cent of the time his crews use the wet cut system. “We try to make dust a non-issue with projects. Factors of weather, wind and surrounding properties influence when we use dry cut or wet.”

Mark Fisher of The Escarpment Company in Milton, says he uses mostly dry cut saws. He and his crews find that the wet cut system isn’t necessarily slower, but it is dirty and workers get soaked. Some crew members said that wet dust dries on clothes, and if it gets on the skin it can burn.

“When we use dry cut saws in heavy residential areas, it does bother the neighbours,” says Fisher, whose crew member is featured on the cover. “At times my crews aren’t too popular on the street.”  Over 90 per cent of The Escarpment Company’s work involves hardscape.

“I’ve been in this business for 27 years, and well remember when all stone cutting was done with wet saws,” says Ed Hansen of Hansen Lawn and Gardens in Ottawa. He explains that once dry saws became more powerful and mobile, the industry switched to that method.

Be neighbourly

Hansen’s crew now works mostly with dry cuts, but will use wet cuts under certain conditions. On the issue of dust spreading to the surrounding areas, Hansen says, “We have learned certain tactics, such as erecting tarps in confined spaces, alleviate the problem. Any real professional is going to conduct the cutting of stone in a neighbourly manner. If not, they won’t be in business for long.”  

Rob Tester, of TNT Property Maintenance in Kitchener, estimates that between 50 to 75 per cent of his company’s projects involve cutting stone. “We use gas wet kits and an electric dustless dry cut saw from iQ Power Tools,” says Tester.

“The dustless dry cut saw is awesome. There’s no wet mess or worrying about dust spreading around the site.”

Lakeridge Contracting in Whitby also uses the dustless dry saw. “The iQ saw is great for reducing dust, but there are some limitations such as its bulky size, price and it is electric, which can be difficult under wet conditions and poor electrical sourcing,” says Mike Pennington.

Take precautions

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out in general terms the duties of employers and others to protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job. These duties include taking all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers, ensuring that equipment, materials and protective equipment are maintained, and providing instruction and supervision to protect worker health and safety.

In addition, section 30 of the OHSA deals with designated substances on construction projects. Since silica is a designated substance, compliance with the OHSA and its regulations requires action to be taken where there is a silica hazard on a construction project.

When cutting stone, the operator should always wear personal protective equipment.

All the LO members interviewed for this article emphasized they are very strict about safety procedures when cutting stone. “We ensure everyone wears all safety equipment for nose, eyes and ears,” says Mark Fisher.

New Jersey bans dry cut

In the U.S., governments are now casting an eye towards the issue of dry cutting and resulting dust. New Jersey has banned the use of the saws, and presently the U.S. Department of Labour is studying the possibility of implementing new rules for crystalline silica. More on that study may be found at www.osha.gov/silica/.

One member interviewed said he didn’t work in Oakville because that city had placed a ban on dry saw use. A call to Oakville’s supervisor of licensing, Lewis Ferreira, clarified that in fact the city has no such ban.

“An issue concerning dust from cutting stone in Oakville, could be covered under the nuisance by-law,” said Ferreira. The supervisor said some form of an abatement solution could be instituted to resolve the issue.

No bans on producing silica dust presently exist in Canada.

Mike Pennington said his company purchased its electric dustless dry cut saw when the client on a 35,000 sq. ft. project demanded that no dust be produced during the installation. He says it wouldn’t surprise him to see more clients make such requests.

Industry standards

Ron Swentiski suggests Landscape Ontario develop industry standards and practices to mitigate this problem. “We (landscape industry) are potentially exposing our clients and the neighbourhoods to this hazard. This might be the right moment for the Hardscape Committee and Health and Safety Committee of Landscape Ontario to examine this issue and develop best practices for the industry.”

Terry Childs suggested using standards already developed by ICPI. The ICPI website address is icpi.org/.

ICPI has scheduled a webinar on Nov. 6, at 1 p.m., on silica dust. Presenters are Joel Guth, president of iQ. Power Tools, and Robert Bowers, Director of Engineering, ICPI. To access the webinar, go to icpi.org/node/4555.