As of September 23, 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration began enforcing new silica safety standards for the construction industry. Even though that was the better part of a year ago, many contractors are still not in compliance, whether purposefully or because they don’t fully understand the new regulations.
Respirable crystalline silica is a serious health risk for construction workers, putting you and your crew at increased risk for silicosis, an incurable lung disease that ends in death, lung cancers, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and kidney disease. Because of the seriousness of long term exposure to silica, OSHA continues to issue updated standards as more is learned on the topic.
What are Common Ways of Being Exposed to Silica?
Cutting, grinding, drilling, crushing or mixing materials containing sand, stone, concrete, brick or mortar are the easiest and most common ways for workers to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica. Since these are very common tasks on any jobsite, it pays to be aware of the new OSHA requirements. Even if you don’t believe that silica is a true health hazard, you should be concerned about the fines that OSHA will levy when they find you’re out of compliance.
How Do I Achieve Compliance?
You have two options to achieve compliance. You can regularly sample the air that your guys work in and submit them to OSHA or just grab a copy of OSHA’s Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction and follow the instructions for each tool listed. For example, under “Stationary Masonry Saws,” OSHA requires the following silica control methods:
“Use saw equipped with integrated water delivery system that continuously feeds water to the blade,” or “Operate and maintain tool in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions to minimize dust emissions.”
Dust suppression is a common theme in this handy little e-book. But you can’t suppress everything, which is why there’s also a requirement for respiratory protection based on how long your workers will be using a particular tool. Requirements start at a Minimum Assigned Protection Factor (APF) of 10 and go up from there, depending on the job, risk of exposure and amount of silica likely to be in the air.
Other important items required to get your household in order include:
● Eliminating dry sweeping areas where silica has been present, also don’t allow cleaning areas or clothing with compressed air. Both will send the particles back up into the air where they can be inhaled.
● Have a written exposure plan that includes details on the type of work your employees are likely to perform that may lead to silica exposure, as well as ways to protect them from it. You’ll also want to assign someone responsible on the crew to enforce it.
● Send your crew to the doctor on a regular basis for medical exams. If an employee will be required to wear a respirator for 30 or more days a year, they’ll need a baseline chest x-ray to check for silicosis, then regular follow-up x-rays, depending on their level of exposure each year.
Dustless Construction Sites are the Future
Respirable crystalline silica is a serious hazard on many construction sites, which is why larger contractors have been in transition to dustless work sites for years. Although it may cost you a little bit more to pay for equipment that can be run wet or attached to a vac, the long-term effects can’t really have a price put on them. It can take many, many years for signs of silica damage to appear, at which point it’s too late.
Like mesothelioma, silicosis is a condition that’s a side effect of handling construction materials in ways that we all once thought were perfectly safe. What sort of construction jobs have you done in the past that are now considered to be dangerous? This should be interesting. 🙂