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Insurance - OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Rule

image Stan Gregory, Safety & Risk Consultant, INSURICA, San Antonio, TX

AUSTIN - On March 25th, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule regarding respirable crystalline silica. Under this rule, employers are now subject to new standards for protecting workers. As the construction industry approaches the required implementation date of September 23, 2017, it is a good time to review the highlights.



What’s a Little Dust?
    Although silica looks like dust, it’s much more harmful to your lungs. Silica dust is a human lung carcinogen, and breathing it in causes the formation of scar tissue on the lungs, reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. Without proper protection, exposure poses a serious threat to workers. The most severe exposures to silica dust result from abrasive blasting, but those working in cement and brick manufacturing, tool and die, maintenance and the steel and foundry industries are at high risk as well.
    About 2 million construction workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in over 600,000 workplaces. OSHA estimates that more than 840,000 of these workers are exposed to silica levels that exceed the new permissible exposure limit (PEL).
    Exposure to respirable crystalline silica can cause kidney disease, silicosis, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. Here is some common construction equipment that can expose workers to dangerous levels of silica:

    Masonry saws
    Handheld powered chipping tools
    Vehicle-mounted drilling rigs
    Milling equipment
    Crushing machines
    Heavy demolition equipment

    The construction standard does not apply in situations where exposures will remain low under any foreseeable conditions. This includes tasks such as mixing mortar, pouring concrete foundation walls and removing concrete formwork.

What Does the Standard Require?

    The standard requires that employers limit worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica and take other steps to protect workers.
    The standard provides flexible alternatives, especially useful for small employers. Employers can either use a control method, or they can measure worker exposure to silica and independently decide which dust controls work best to limit exposures to the PEL in their workplaces.
    Regardless of which exposure control method is used, all construction employers covered by the standard are required to do the following:

•    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 as well as on ways to limit exposure
•    Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams

Important Things to Remember

•    OSHA’s final silica rule establishes a new permissible exposure limit for respirable silica.
•    Employers must implement specific measures to protect workers.
•    The intent of the rule is to reduce the risk of diseases caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
•    Employers in the construction industry must comply by Sept. 23, 2017.

For additional information on OSHA’s silica rule, go to www.osha.gov/silica.

Stan Gregory is a Safety and Risk Consultant and a leader on INSURICA’s Risk Management team. He has more than three decades of experience working with loss control, safety planning, and risk management for clients within the construction and energy industries. He can be reached at 210-805-5915 or sgregory@INSURICA.com.

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