The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has begun aggressively enforcing its respirable silica standard.
This effort to reduce the amount of silica dust workers can legally be exposed to is known as The Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica rule. It halves the permissible exposure for crystalline silica from 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour shift to 50 micrograms. Actually, that’s for general industry. But for the construction industry, the rule actually calls for an 80 percent reduction in permissible silica dust (down to 50 micrograms from 250).
The new standard is an effort to prevent or reduce the likelihood of silicosis. This lung disease results from breathing in tiny bits of silica, a mineral found in sand, rock, and mineral ores. Over time, exposure to silica particles causes scarring in the lungs, which can impact one’s ability to breathe.
Few would argue against the importance of worker safety. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that implementation is easy.
What Your Company Needs to Know
OSHA offers some flexibility in implementation, however. 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.
Regardless of which exposure control method is used, all construction employers covered by the standard are required to:
- Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks involving exposure and methods used to protect workers. This includes 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 every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year. Including chest X-rays and lung function tests–
- 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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