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Effective September 23, 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule with regards to silica and the construction industry. The rule includes standards that dramatically reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 µg/m3). The rule also requires employers to implement specific measures to protect workers.
Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in many naturally occurring and man-made materials like concrete, block, brick, mortar, sand and stone. It becomes problematic when cutting, drilling, sawing and other activities associated with work operations. Airborne silica dust particles inhaled by workers is known to cause many health issues including silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and kidney disease. 2.3 million workers have been affected. OSHA estimates more than 840,000 of these workers were exposed to silica levels that exceed the new permissible exposure limit.
The requirements for employers now include:
- Establish and implement a written exposure control plan with a designated competent person
- Communicate hazards and train workers on health effects of silica exposure
- Implement engineering and work-practice control measures
- Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica
- Provide respiratory protection when needed
- Offer medical exams to workers who are exposed to silica
- Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams
A written exposure control plan must describe:
- Task involving exposure
- Engineering controls, work-practice control measure and respiratory protection
- Employers must designate a competent person – individual capable of identifying existing and foreseeable hazards who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures (makes frequent and regular inspection of job sites, materials, and equipment)
In order to comply with exposure control requirements, construction employers must measure jobsite respirable silica levels any time it may possibly exceed 25 µg/m3 (action level). Employers must ensure that employees are not exposed to the new permissible level by limiting access to areas and using dust control measures. Some measures used to reduce the dust include wetting down work areas, using local exhaust ventilation (vacuums), and respirators.
OSHA developed Table 1 (click here to view) for the construction industry being so unique in its exposures. Table 1 provides a list of common construction tasks and specific actions construction employers can take to protect workers. If housekeeping practices potentially expose workers to respirable silica, employers must use any possible alternative as a means of reducing or eliminating the exposure risk. Employers must also offer medical exams to workers who may be exposed to respirable silica levels of 25 µg/m3 or more for 30 or more days per year. The exams must be offered every three years and must include chest X-rays and lung function tests.
The Safegard Group provides a wide range of safety training along with OSHA compliance training and inspection assistance. Any questions or concerns, please reach out to your Risk Control Consultant.