The field-based software tool, which is still undergoing NIOSH testing but is considered to be fully functional, works with already available FTIR analysers (Fourier Transform Infrared) and dust sampling cassettes to determine exposure to RCS dust, giving detailed results immediately following a worker's shift.
"Mineworkers face the danger of potential overexposure to respirable crystalline silica dust every day," the NIOSH research group said, stressing that overexposure can result in silicosis, lung cancer, coal workers' pneumoconiosis (black lung) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Because quick assessment of one's level of exposure is key to controlling respirable crystalline silica in the mine environment, FAST represents an advancement versus traditional methods that required an extended time for samples to be sent to a commercial lab. Specifically, using the technology, operations can access the RCS results immediately and see when and where high concentrations exist, crucial because of ever-changing conditions.
NIOSH associate director for mining Jessica Kogel called FAST a "vital link" for mines seeking better monitoring because it brings the lab to the field.
"The combination of the FAST software, the NIOSH-developed monitoring approach, and the use of portable FTIR analysers allows mines to quickly address the source of the exposure by eliminating the wait time between collecting a sample and receiving the lab results," the group added. "Further, the monitoring approach does not degrade the dust sampling cassette, so mines can still send samples for lab testing to verify the RCS results if they wish."
FAST, which has been extensively lab and field tested both in the US and internationally, is now in the beta version to allow for further feedback from industry users. It can be downloaded here.