Did you know? Approximately TWO MILLION construction workers are affected and exposed to respirable crystalline silica. This includes 600,000 workplaces that may not be compliant. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that at least 840,000 of these construction workers are exposed to silica dust levels greater than the new permissible exposure limit standard. This whooping figure lead to the enactment of OSHA’s final rule on respirable crystalline silica on September 23rd, 2017. California was one of the first states to enact and enforce the regulation set in forth by Fed OSHA.
Silica is comprised of quartz, found naturally in rocks, sand, soil brick and other concrete products. Silica is predominantly found in building materials including concrete, masonry, mortar, rock, sand and some varieties of paints. If your firm performs:
on any building materials, it is highly likely that respirable silica dust can be in the air.
The OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.1153 on respirable crystalline silica now outlines a new permissible exposure limit, also known as PEL, for silica dust exposure. This standard makes employers and workplaces now liable for safety of their employees when silica dust exposure risk is high. The OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1926.1153 applies to all occupational silica dust exposures in construction work that have are greater than 25 micrograms per cubic meter as an 8-hour time-weighted average. This standard is regulated under any foreseeable conditions.
Not only does the standard require for employers and workplaces to be under the permissible exposure limit for silica dust hazards, but they must also have a written exposure control plan, overseen by a competent person. The written exposure control plan identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers. The competent person shall be trained and understand the many duties of implementing the written exposure control plan. Furthermore, the competent person must be accountable for the record-keeping of medical exams, objective data and exposure measurements. The employer must also offer medical exams – including chest x-rays and lung function tests – every three years for workers exposed at or above the action level for 30 or more days per year.
Some standard key elements of the new OSHA regulation includes: using housekeeping methods that minimize or eliminate airborne dust when feasible, limiting worker access to areas above the permissible exposure limit, using dust controls, and providing respirators when necessary. Included with this regulation, employers must provide and properly fit test their employees, who will be exposed to silica dust greater than the permissible exposure limit, with respirators annually. Medical records and exams should be wholly provided by the employer as well.
Silica dust can lead to serious chronic illnesses including but not limited to silicosis, lung cancer, COPD and tuberculosis. Many of these illnesses have no cure and could have been prevented with the correct measures when dealing with respirable crystalline silica. Silicosis, also known as grinder’s asthma, is a form of lung disease caused by inhaling respirable crystalline silica. Early stages include inflammation of the lungs and silicosis ultimately leads to lesions in the upper lobes of the lungs. There are two forms of silicosis: acute and chronic. Acute silicosis occurs within a few weeks or years from exposure to inhaled silica. Acute silicosis attributes to coughing, fatigue and drastic weight loss. Chronic silicosis is more dormant, and does not affect the body until 10 to 30 years after exposure. Chronic silicosis affects the upper lobes of the lungs and causes lesions and extensive scarring. Silicosis is typically diagnosed by a computed tomography (CT) scan or a chest x-ray. A physician may also obtain a lung sample if imaging results are not verifiable to clearly diagnose silicosis. There is currently no cure for silicosis.
Using water during drilling, sanding, grinding, or etc. can drastically keep silica dust out of the air. Some tools may come with water attachments to control dust directly at the source. Water is strongly recommended and can also keep dust out during sweeps and demolitions. When water isn’t available, use a HEPA-certified vacuum. Tools with vacuum attachments also capture dust right at the source. Silica dust can be drawn into hoods or covers right into the tool and is typically cleared by a HEPA-filter. HEPA-specified vacuums come included with a HEPA-filter to ensure silica dust is out of the air.
When the area of exposure could be too great for a tool or water to be used, ensuring that your firm uses HEPA Ventilation and Filtration Air Systems can drastically keep dust out of your airways. When these controls cannot maintain or keep permissible exposure limits below the OSHA standard, a respirator must be used. Employers are required to have full and written respiratory programs. Respirators are necessary when all other devices including vacuums and water do not sufficiently protect from silica exposure. Employers must also train their employees on how to properly use respirators, the types of respirators for different workplace scenarios, as well as fit testing to ensure respirators are fitted and functioning properly.
With California leading the way to enforcing these new regulations set in place, regular audits and surprise audits could lead to many firms having compliance issues to this standard. Furthermore, it could lead to citations and perhaps heavy fines imposed. These fines can levy a huge financial burden and could potentially put firms out of business. Ensuring your employee and firm’s safety could also mean the financial survival of your business.
Here at Global Environmental Network, Inc., we can help your firm become compliant to OSHA’s Final Rule on Crystalline Silica Dust Exposure. We offer many services in accordance with this new standard including but not limited to: Silica Hazard Awareness Training (for worker and supervisor), Silica Dust Air Sample Monitoring, Silica Exposure Control Plan Writing as well as Respirator Training and Fit Testing. Our main priorities are to keep you and your employees safe as well as being compliant with OSHA’s many regulations. We offer two-hour silica hazard awareness training for workers who are exposed to respirable crystalline silica and a four-hour silica hazard awareness training for supervisors.