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In Effect, OSHA’s New Silica Rule Aims to Reduce Workers’ Exposure

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a new Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard – one for construction and one for the general industry and maritime – in order to protect the nearly 2.3 million US workers exposed to the harmful material at their respective workplaces. On September 23, 2017, OSHA began enforcing the new Standard for construction, and in order to ensure that workers’ exposure is limited as soon as possible, OSHA offered compliance assistance to employers during the first 30 days.

Respirable crystalline silica ­– a particle nearly 100 times smaller than sand – is created while performing common construction tasks, including drilling, cutting, sawing, and grinding of stone, rock, concrete, brick, and mortar. Crystalline silica is harmful when ingested or inhaled as it can cause serious health issues, including silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease.

Employers subject to the Standard are given the option to choose between two methods of exposure control based on factors that are unique to each construction employer’s operation. The first is a set of control methods, which match common construction practices with silica prevention measures proven to already be effective, such as using ventilation systems or water to trap dust or harmful substrates such as silica.

The second set of alternate exposure control methods use a flexible system that allows employers to independently choose the dust prevention measure that is most effective as long as it stops worker’s exposure from exceeding the “permissible exposure limit” of 50µg/m3 averaged over an 8-hour day. If employers cannot limit exposure below the “permissible exposure limit”, the employer must provide workers with appropriate respirators.

Regardless of the method chosen, construction employers subject to the Standard must:

  1. Create and implement a written exposure plan that targets high exposure areas and activities, and includes exposure-prevention procedures.

  2. Provide silica exposure prevention training to workers.

  3. Designate a competent person to exercise the written exposure plan.

  4. Restrict “housekeeping” practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.

  5. Offer medical exams every three years for workers required to wear a respirator for 30 or more days a year.

  6. Keep active records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.

To learn more about OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard and further prevention methods, please visit the following link or view the OSHA Fact Sheet.

Photo (Top): No dust prevention in use.

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