New OSHA Silica Standard Effective September 23

September 26, 2017

A memo was released from Thomas Galassi, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, regarding the enforcement of the new Silica Regulatory Standard which became enforceable on September 23, 2017 in the construction industry.

In summary, OSHA will take into consideration all good faith efforts taken by contractors to attempt to meet the new requirements.  OSHA will work with employers to ensure the use of all aspects of the Table 1 requirements in the field and provide guidance as needed to reach full compliance with the standard.  OSHA will only pursue citations if it appears that the employer is not taking efforts to implement controls.

September 26 update courtesy of J.W. Terrill. Read the original here.

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:

insert 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

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.