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.

Ermator Spare Parts - in stock

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.


What Could Dust Extraction Cost You?

Dust extraction on a jobsite must be handled carefully, or the mistake could mean steep OSHA penalties.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) takes airborne and surface-borne dust very seriously because of its severe risks to job site workers and public safety. Every year, more than 2 million construction workers are exposed to materials that contain silica, including concrete and stone.

Prolonged exposure to silica dust – or even short-term exposure in some cases – can cause a condition called silicosis, which compromises respiration. In affected people, scars form deep within the lungs, limiting the breath and increasing the risk of lung infections like tuberculosis. There is no cure for silicosis.

In 2016, OSHA updated the Crystalline Silica Rule, establishing tougher standards for respirable crystalline silica, including an enforcement schedule that’s in effect for construction sites, industrial settings, maritime operations and contractors. The standards are much stricter than those set by OSHA’s original silica rule in the 1970’s.

Is your work site in full compliance with the new rule? Here’s why it should be. 

How to Manage Dust Extraction the Right Way

To handle crystalline silica dust properly, follow all OSHA standards for respirators, exposure limits, engineering controls and other measures that directly affect worker health and safety. Monitor exposure levels and stay within the boundaries of exposure limits: 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air at an 8-hour, time-weighted average.

Use a high-quality HEPA vacuum to filter the air and remove airborne particles created by grinding, drilling, mixing, cutting, blasting and other worksite activities. Plan for both wet and dry activities and ensure all workers are fully trained on precautionary procedures in case an emergency arises.

Pullman Ermator, maker of single-phase HEPA dust extractors, recently conducted a cost analysis on what bags, filters and labor could cost you for dust extraction over a year. The first is your initial cost, where your choices include 150 CFM and smaller plastic dust vacuums that are HEPA-ready or HEPA-included.

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*click here for the full PDF guide (courtesy of Pullman Ermator Inc.)

Your annual filter costs depend on the type of vacuum you are using. Single-motor dust vacuums with self-pulsing or shaking filter systems need to be replaced periodically. While a HEPA-ready vacuum needs a filter change every two months, HEPA-included dust extractors run for 18 months without a filter change. Figuring in the price for each type of filter bag, plus the annual labor cost of changing two bags per day during a six-day work week for 50 weeks a year, the HEPA-included models come out on top – even though the filter bag price is higher. In the long run, you could end up paying $3,000 more for a plastic dust vacuum. Purchasing any S-line dust extractor may have a higher initial cost, but you still can save thousands of dollars year after year.

Failure to Comply Penalties Go Beyond Basic Cost

OSHA’s enforcement penalties for the Crystalline Silica Rule come with expensive fines. The lowest level serious violation previously cost the violator $7,000 in fines. In the updated standards, the same level violation costs $12,471 per incident and is likely to trigger a deeper investigation by OSHA and other governmental authorities.

After the first incident, it’s the company’s responsibility to manage abatement procedures and prove to OSHA that abatement has taken place. Otherwise, you’ll face a failure-to-abate fine of $12,471 per day beyond the abatement deadline from OSHA.

The biggest penalty comes from either waiting too long to address issues or allowing them to take place repeatedly, which OSHA considers a willful violation. This comes with a staggering $124,709 fine, which can be doubled, tripled or more if you have numerous serious violations across your enterprise.

Putting Worker Safety At Risk

The cost of non-compliance goes much deeper than dollars. Failure to manage crystalline silica dust can destroy the health of your workers. Part of OSHA compliance is providing medical exams at least every three years to workers who wear respirators for more than 30 days at a time. These standards are set for a reason – to prevent workers’ health and lives from being permanently affected by worksite hazards.

Non-compliance can also ruin your company’s reputation in the industry. When competitors, partners and the public get wind of unethical practices, word spreads like wildfire and it can permanently tarnish a company’s image. Just one violation could severely limit the number of jobs your company is awarded in the future.

To keep your worksite risk at an absolute minimum, contact your Runyon sales rep to examine the site and put protective measures in place. It’s a proactive step towards staying well within OSHA boundaries and making sure dust doesn’t cost you money and lives.

Runyon Surface Prep Rental & Supply is a full-service sales and rental facility uniquely dedicated to the concrete polishing industry. Our uniqueness comes from providing our customers with a diverse equipment, product and supply portfolio. We offer training and support, such as technique workshops on prep, polishing or removal, and maintain a well-stocked inventory of consumables ready for your projects at a moment’s notice. Rather than perform contract work ourselves, we consult on job sites when necessary. With the backing of our vendors, Runyon Surface Prep offers 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 our facility.