New OSHA Silica Testing Requirement in Effect
New OSHA Silica Testing Requirement in Effect
OSHA has issued two standards (“rules”) to minimize exposure to respirable crystalline silica. One rule applies to construction trades, and the other for general industry and maritime workplaces. This blog focuses on the new OSHA Silica Testing requirements for the construction industry. September 23, 2017, kicked off enforcement for most provisions of the OSHA Silica Rule for Construction.
The new rule requires silica air quality testing – but there’s one big loop hole. Contractors who decide not to comply with the new rule may be subject to fines up to $12,675; $12,675 per day for failure-to-abate; and $126,749 for a repeated or flagrant violations. This is why contractors are talking about this rule.
Why is there an OSHA Silica Testing Rule?
According to OSHA, those who inhale very small crystalline silica particles are at increased risk of harmful diseases, including:
- Silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death;
- Lung cancer;
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and
- Kidney disease.
This means that every road crew you see should be using different protocols than just two months ago. We should start seeing more respirators on street crews.
What’s New in the OSHA Silica Standard?
Previously the Permissible Exposure Level (PEL) for respirable silica was 100 µg/m3 for an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA). The new OSHA Silica standard establishes an 8-hr TWA PEL of 50 µg/m3, half the old PEL, so it’s no wonder contractors are concerned and calling for silica air testing. In addition to testing requirements, “all construction employers covered by the standard are required to:
- Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
- Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan.
- Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
- Offer medical exams—including chest X-rays and lung function tests—every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
- Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
- Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.”
Air Testing for OSHA Silica Rule
The new standard requires employers to perform air quality testing for silica.
The OSHA Silica Testing standard requires employers to:
- Quantify concentrations of silica that workers are exposed through air quality testing.
- Set an action level of 25 μg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), averaged over an 8-hr day.
- Protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposures above the permissible exposure limit of 50 μg/m3, averaged over an 8-hr day.
- Use dust controls to protect workers from silica exposures above the PEL.
- Provide respirators to workers when dust controls cannot limit exposures to the PEL.
What is “Respirable Silica” and are My Workers at Risk?
According to OSHA, “Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might find on beaches and playgrounds – is created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. Activities such as abrasive blasting with sand; sawing brick or concrete; sanding or drilling into concrete walls; grinding mortar; manufacturing brick, concrete blocks, stone countertops, or ceramic products; and cutting or crushing stone result in worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica dust…”
This means that most construction crews – especially concrete, stoneworkers, and demolition trades – are at risk and covered by the new rule. HBS suggests all contractors engaged in these standard construction activities hire an industrial hygienist and do their due diligence. Get silica air quality testing so you know where you stand.
One Big Loophole in the OSHA Silica Testing Rule:
If you follow “Table 1” measures you are not required to quantify silica exposure levels, AND are not subject to the PEL.
According to OSHA, “Table 1 matches common construction tasks with dust control methods, so employers know exactly what they need to do to limit worker exposures to silica. The dust control measures listed in the table include methods known to be effective…”
So if you’re very confident in your compliance professionals and team you can wing it and follow Table 1, but if you don’t dot your I’s and cross your T’s you may be subject to serious penalties. We suggest you get the OSHA silica testing done so you know where you stand and can demonstrate you’ve done your due diligence.
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