The new standard
Via the OSHA website, the Respirable Crystalline Silica construction standard, 29 CFR § 1926.1153, became enforceable on September 23, 2017. The silica standard sets for those involved in general industry and construction a new time-weighted average (TWA) and action level for respirable silica exposure to workers.
Control measures have been established and are used as enforceable guidelines to prevent airborne silica from reaching concentrations dangerous to those who are unprotected. These measures, seen in Table 1 of the standard, define the necessary or voluntary use of specific personal protective equipment (PPE) and work practices depending on a variety of tools and work environments involved in the process.
What you need to know
Silica dust can be generated from many sources, such as through the cutting, grinding, jack hammering, or drilling of construction materials. Crystalline silica is commonly found in sand, stone, concrete, brick, and mortar. When disturbed, silica dust becomes airborne and, once inhaled by unprotected workers, can reach the alveioli deep in the lungs which causes damage to the tissue. Chronic damage can cause a serious lung disease known as silicosis, an incurable scarring of the lungs, as well as other problems such as lung cancer, kidney disease, and COPD.
Depending on the type of work performed and tools used, silica and dust monitoring may be required. Initial exposure monitoring is almost always mandatory at a job site until an understanding of employee exposure to silica dust is documented thoroughly. This is crucial for employers and workers to incorporate in their practice while deciding on the best control measures to follow. Even when using good faith in job operations, OSHA inspectors have handed out hundreds of citations to employers not knowing the necessary actions they were required to perform by the new standard. This factor may be a massive burden on an employer or contractor's budget and reputation.
What we can do for you
EHI can provide industrial hygienists to your work sites and provide on-site compliance auditing to ensure that workers, supervisors, and contractors understand the required actions and methods based on the Respirable Silica standard. On top of visual inspections and working in a team-based mentality with your workers, our hygienists can:
- Perform initial and periodic exposure silica air sampling
- Perform negative exposure assessments
- Write an exposure control plan for each job or task performed on-site
- Monitor and suggest better and safer work practices including tool selection and water control methods
- Train workers on the dangers of exposure to silica and the types of diseases and issues that may develop