After years of comment, debate, and lawsuits, the new Silica Rules developed by OSHA and DOSH are now in place.
Changing regulations often cause headaches and confusion. This is definitely the case with the Silica Rules, which are being compared to asbestos regulations. OSHA believes it will cost $500 million annually for companies nationwide to comply (or $500-$1200 per employer), but construction industry groups have stated the actual cost could be in the billions.
What’s clear is that affected employers will definitely need to do some homework to get compliant and remain that way in the coming months and years. Many companies will also need to purchase new equipment, review work practices, and retrain employees as part of this effort.
Are you affected?
OSHA says that silica dust can be released by using a variety of tools on “concrete, brick, block, stone, mortar, and other materials that contain crystalline silica.” If any of your employees do this, then you’ll need to determine if the amount of exposure averages 25 micrograms per square meter (μg/m3) or more in an 8 hour workday. (Hint – if dust is visible, the answer is “yes”).
Important: Even if your employees don’t do this work directly, be sure to think about whether they can ever be exposed through other work being done on the jobsite. This article points out that even electricians and general contractors may be affected by silica dust exposure.
How do we comply?
- Review the information at https://www.osha.gov/silica. There are special guides available for small business.
- Develop a written silica exposure control plan. Luckily, there’s an online template available at https://plan.silica-safe.org/ that can automate this process.
- Designate someone to implement the plan. For construction companies, this needs to be a competent person with specific knowledge of silica hazards and remedies.
- Adjust housekeeping practices to maximize control of silica dust. Water tools and HEPA vacuums are particularly effective.
- Provide medical exams every three years to employees who are exposed to silica to the point of having to wear a respirator for 30 days or more each year. The exams must include lung-function tests and chest X-rays.
- Train workers on how to limit exposure to silica.
- Keep records of workers’ training, silica exposure, and related medical treatment.
These last three steps may be the most important because they are the ones that need to be followed-up on continuously after the initial plan has been put into place.
Protecting Workers from Silica Hazards
Videos for Table 1 Tasks
- Stationary Masonry Saws
- Handheld Power Saws
- Handheld and Stand-Mounted Drills
- Jackhammers or Handheld Powered Chipping Tools
- Handheld Grinders for Mortar Removal (Tuckpointing)
- Handheld Grinders for Uses Other than Mortar Removal
Have a question about what the silica rule means for your company? Call our safety team at 360.515.9479 or schedule a safety visit.