Nov 03, 2017

OSHA Begins Full Enforcement of New Silica Standards

Respirable crystalline silica is generated by cutting, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. It is 100 times smaller than ordinary grains of sand. With its new guidelines, OSHA has targeted activities such as brick or concrete cutting or drilling, stone crushing, sand blasting, grinding mortar, and the manufacture of brick, concrete block, stone countertops, or ceramic products. All of these activities can result in exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. OSHA estimates that approximately 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work. Exposure over time can cause an increased risk of developing serious silica-related diseases, including silicosis, lung cancer, COPD and kidney disease.

OSHA’s new guidelines are in the form of 2 new standards – one for the construction industry and a second for general industry and maritime. Full implementation of the standard began on October 23, 2017. A copy of OSHA’s fact sheet can be found by clicking here, and OSHA’s memorandum to its regional administrators can be found by clicking here. While some trade organizations are fighting these new regulations in court, final decisions are not expected for some time. In the interim, OSHA’s guidelines control enforcement efforts.

To be compliant, employers in the construction industry must implement engineering, respiratory protections and work practice controls when dealing with respirable crystalline silica. Medical surveillance, a written exposure control plan and other standard practices must be put in place to monitor and protect against exposure including restricted access to high exposure areas. Companies are required to designate a competent person to implement the control plan, and to make regular inspections of job sites. Medical examination requirements are also set forth for those regularly exposed who are required to wear a respirator 30 days or more per year.

OSHA has developed an alternative approach to compliance embodied in what is referred to in the regulations as “Table 1.” Construction employers in compliance with Table 1 will be exempt from meeting monitoring requirements, but still must establish a written exposure control plan, designate a competent person to implement the plan, restrict practices which expose workers to silica, offer medical exams and training and maintain records. Table 1 identifies 18 construction tasks likely to expose employees to respirable crystalline silica, and identifies specific controls and respiratory protection which will satisfy the OSHA guidelines and allow the employer to avoid expensive monitoring requirements. While stringent, Table 1 compliance may be more attainable and realistic than many might expect. A copy of Table 1 can be accessed here.

Education and training opportunities are available in our area and through various trade groups. The new respirable crystalline silica guidelines represent some of the most significant health standards issued for the construction industry in recent years, and it is important for employers to understand and bring their workforce up to speed. Contact Bob Watson at Eastburn and Gray, PC with any questions that you may have.

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