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New OSHA Silica Standard effective Sept. 23, 2017

September 7, 2017

Silica Dust

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its Silica Standards in an effort to curb lung cancer, silicosis, and other chronic pulmonary diseases by limiting employees’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The enforcement date for the Construction Industry is September 23, 2017.

Respirable Crystalline Silica is:

  • Found in materials like sand, concrete, brick, block, stone and mortar – many products used in construction.
  • Respirable crystalline silica is very small, typical at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand found on beaches or playgrounds.
  • Generated by high-energy operations like cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, crushing and sand blasting.

OSHA has made these changes because it believes the previous Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) do not adequately protect workers.

Tools that may generate silica exposure:

  • Stationary masonry saws
  • Handheld power saws
  • Walk-behind and drivable saws
  • Rig-mounted core saws or drills
  • Handheld and stand-mounted drills
  • Dowel drilling rigs
  • Jackhammers and handheld powered chipping tools
  • Handheld grinders
  • Walk-behind and drivable milling machines and floor grinders
  • Crushing machines
  • Heavy equipment and utility vehicles when used to abrade or fracture silica containing materials or during demolition activities, and for tasks such as grading and excavating.
  • Abrasive blasting

What if the task IS listed on Table 1?

The Construction Silica Standard identifies specific exposure control methods through Table 1 in the standard. Eighteen tasks with effective dust control methods and respirator requirements have been identified. If employees are engaged in one of the tasks on the table, as long as you follow the engineering controls and respirator requirements you will be in compliance. No sampling is required as long as you follow the guidance of Table 1.

The use of Table 1 simplifies compliance – but how can you determine that this is the method your company should be using?

Follow this flow chart to get started:

Silica Flow Chart

If you determine—using Table 1—that the task you’re doing is above the permissible exposure limit (PEL), then you must make sure:

  • Controls are in place
  • Controls are properly operated and maintained
  • Employees understand how to use them

You must also operate and maintain tools according to manufactures’ instructions, including:

  • Water flow rates
  • Vacuum equipment air flow rate and capacity
  • Rotation of the blade (speed, direction)
  • Maintaining and changing blades
  • Frequency for changing water

Remember, that when required to use a respirator per Table 1, employers must:

  • Provide respiratory protection when required
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose employees to respirable crystalline silica where feasible alternatives are available
  • Establish and implement a written exposure control plan, including designating a competent person
  • Offer medical exams to employees who will be required to wear a respirator under the standard for 30 or more days a year
  • Communicate hazards and train employees
  • Keep records of medical examinations

What if the task is NOT listed on Table 1?

When performing a task listed below the PEL in isolation from any other respirable silica generating task, it is not necessary to protect employees from exposure. Examples include:

  • Mixing concrete for post holes;
  • Pouring concrete footers, slab foundation and foundation walls; and
  • Removing concrete formwork.
  • Hole drillers using hand-held drills for a duration of 15 minutes or less (assuming no exposure for the remainder of the shift)

Additional information on OSHA’s silica rule can be found at www.osha.gov/silica.

Earlier this year, MMA hosted a seminar on silica regulations featuring David O'Connor, Director of the Office of Chemical Hazards-- Non-Metals; OSHA. Watch his presentation HERE.


This document is not intended to be taken as advice regarding any individual situation and should not be relied upon as such. Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC shall have no obligation to update this publication and shall have no liability to you or any other party arising out of this publication or any matter contained herein. Any statements concerning actuarial, tax, accounting or legal matters are based solely on our experience as consultants and are not to be relied upon as actuarial, accounting, tax or legal advice, for which you should consult your own professional advisors. Any modeling analytics or projections are subject to inherent uncertainty and the analysis could be materially affective if any underlying assumptions, conditions, information or factors are inaccurate or incomplete or should change.