The OSHA Silica Standard – One Year Later

In the year following the enforcement of Crystalline Silica Standard 29 CFR 1926.1153, OSHA is providing better direction on compliance.

On September 23, 2017, when a new standard for Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) exposure was put into effect by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), construction industry companies showing good faith were given a grace period of 30 days to comply. OSHA began to enforce the new standard, which requires employers to limit worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica and take additional steps to protect them, on October 23, 2017.

At least 676,000 workplaces in the United States must comply with this rule, which affects about 2.3 million workers who are exposed to respirable crystalline silica every day. The majority of these people work in the construction industry – about 2 million.

Current Enforcement Statistics

As of August 1, 2018, OSHA has issued about 150 citations to contractors under the new silica standard across the country, according to a presentation prepared by Joseph Whiteman, CSP, CHST, of the American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC). OSHA classifies the majority of these citations as “serious,” since overexposure to respirable crystalline silica is considered an immediate health threat to American workers.

Rather than citing a company for silica violations only, silica citations often accompany other violations. Top violations categories to the current citations list include:

  • Failure to conduct an exposure assessment
  • Failure to adhere to Table 1 tasks
  • Absence or inadequate written Exposure Control Plan
  • Absence or inadequate workforce training
  • Failure to provide each employee an appropriate Respiratory Protection
  • Failure to replace dry sweeping with wet sweeping, HEPA-filtered vacuuming or other methods that minimize the likelihood of exposure
  • Failure to make medical surveillance available at no cost to the employee required to use a respirator for 30 or more days per year

To learn how this provision is currently being enforced and why multiple citations result, consult OSHA’s Interim Enforcement Guidance Memorandum.

In the time following the initial enforcement of Crystalline Silica Standard 29 CFR 1926.1153, OSHA is providing better direction on compliance with in-depth online resources such as FAQs for the construction industry, how-to videos for controlling silica dust in the workplace, a training video for protecting workers as well as Table 1 Tasks Fact Sheets for the construction industry.

What is Table 1?

To comply with the new silica rule, employers can either use one of the control methods explained in Table 1 of the construction standard, or they can measure workers’ exposure to silica and independently decide which dust controls work best to limit exposures in their workplaces to the permissible exposure limit (PEL).

Table 1 matches 18 common construction tasks with effective dust control methods, such as using water to keep dust from getting into the air or using a vacuum dust collection system to capture dust. In some operations, respirators may also be needed. Employers who follow Table 1 correctly are not required to measure workers’ exposure to silica from those tasks and are not subject to the PEL.

The Purpose of a Silica Exposure Control Plan

A silica Exposure Control Plan (ECP) sets an approach to protecting your workers and all workers on your worksites from harmful exposure to respirable crystalline silica. With a detailed ECP, you are showing OSHA your commitment and due diligence in your efforts to select the most effective control technologies available, and to ensure that best practices are followed at your worksites. A combination of control measures are required to achieve this objective.

Due to the significant risk posed by respirable crystalline silica, it is critical that all personnel involved in operations that could potentially create silica dust take specific action to ensure that, as much as possible, a hazard is not created.

Your company is responsible for:

  • Required substitution of less hazardous products for those that contain crystalline silica
  • Ensuring that the materials (tools, equipment, personal protective equipment) and other resources (worker training materials) required to fully implement and maintain your ECP are readily available where and when they are needed
  • Providing a job-specific ECP for each project, which outlines in detail the work methods and practices that will be followed on each site. Considerations include:
    • Availability and delivery of all required tools/equipment
    • Scope and nature of grinding work to be conducted
    • Control methods to be used and level of respiratory protection required
    • Coordination plan
  • Conducting a periodic review of the effectiveness of the ECP, such as a review of the available dust-control technologies to ensure these are selected and used when practical
  • Initiating sampling of worker exposure to concrete dust when there are non-standard work practices for which the control methods to be used have not been proven to be adequately protective
  • Ensuring that all required tools, equipment and personal protective equipment are readily available and used as required by the ECP
  • Ensuring supervisors and workers are educated and trained to an acceptable level of competency
  • Maintaining records of training, fit-test results, crew talks and inspections (equipment, PPE, work methods/practices)
  • Coordinating the work with the prime contractor and other employers to ensure a safe work environment
  • Ensuring that a copy of the written ECP is available to all employees electronically or physically, depending on location needs and requirements

Your supervisors, foremen and lead hands are responsible for:

  • Obtaining a copy of the ECP and making it available at the worksite
  • Selecting, implementing and documenting the appropriate site-specific control measures
  • Providing adequate instruction to workers on the hazards of working with silica-containing materials and on the precautions specified in the job-specific plan covering hazards at the location
  • Ensuring that workers have been fit-tested and are using the proper respirators and that the results are recorded
  • Directing the work in a manner that ensures the risk to workers is minimized and adequately controlled
  • Communicating with the prime contractor and other sub-contractors to ensure a safe work environment

Each of your workers is responsible for:

  • Knowing the hazards of silica dust exposure
  • Using the assigned protective equipment in an effective and safe manner
  • Setting up the operation in accordance with the site-specific plan
  • Following established work procedures as directed by the supervisor
  • Reporting any unsafe conditions or acts to the supervisor
  • Knowing how and when to report exposure incidents

Brief Review of the New Silica Standard

Crystalline Silica Standard 29 CFR 1926.1153 applies to all exposures of respirable crystalline silica in the workplace, except where exposure will stay below the OSHA action level of 25 ug/m3 over an 8-hour TWA. The new standards significantly reduce the permissible exposure limits (PEL) from 250 ug/m3 to 50ug/m3 over an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).

  • When your scope generates more than 25 ug/m3 over an 8-hour TWA, the new OSHA regulations apply to you.
  • Employers can either use the control methods laid out in Table 1 of the construction standard, or they can measure workers’ exposure to silica and independently decide which dust controls work best to limit exposures to the PEL in their workplaces.

Employers covered by the standard regardless of which Exposure Control Method is used must:

  • Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
  • Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan.
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
  • Offer medical exams-including chest X-rays and lung function tests-every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
  • Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
  • Keep records of exposure measurements, objective data, and medical exams.

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Runyon Surface Prep Rental & Supply is a full-service sales and rental facility uniquely dedicated to the concrete polishing industry. We can help with any of the aforementioned implementation, and can provide any products (respirators, shrouds, etc.) or equipment (vacuums, air scrubbers, pre-separators, etc.) needed to be in compliance with the Silica Standard. We also offer training and support, such as technique workshops on prep, polishing or removal. We maintain a well-stocked inventory of consumables ready for your project/s at a moment’s notice. With the backing of our vendors, we support at any level, to assist in helping you get things done. We can deliver or ship wherever you need, or you can pick-up from one of our facilities.

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