As of September 23rd, 2017, OSHA finalized their rule on Respirable Crystalline Silica within the workplace. According to the new OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1926.1153, employers and workplaces are now liable for the safety of their employees when respirable crystalline silica exposure risk is greater than 25 micrograms per cubic meter. This is all measured within the span of an 8-hour work day, weighted as an average. The regulation now requires an exposure control plan in the event that the exposure risk is greater than the permissible exposure limit, also known as PEL. The silica dust exposure control plan is overseen by a competent person who also is in charge of medical examination for employees, respirator fit testing and record keeping.
What is Silica and why should we care? Silica is made from quartz, typically found in sand, rocks, soil bricks, masonry and many building materials including concrete. It may be found in paints as well. If there are disturbances in building materials including but not limited to: abrasion, sand blasting, cutting, sawing, crushing, demolishing, drilling, grinding, or jackhammering, it is very certain that silica dust could be present. OSHA estimates that approximately 2 million construction workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica nationwide, including six hundred thousand workplaces that may not be compliant. Of the two million workers from this statistic, at least 840,000 are exposed to respirable crystalline silica levels greater than that of the permissible exposure limit. This ultimately led to the enactment of OSHA’s Final Rule, and California becoming one of the first states to enforce it on the date of September 23rd, 2017.
So how should your firm stay compliant? First, a competent person must be trained to understand the permissible exposure limits, tools and tactics to reduce or minimize exposure, and for record keeping purposes. The standard requires that a firm should have a written control plan implemented and overseen by the competent person. The written control plan outlines various tasks that involve the reduction of exposure and is ancillary to the protection of workers from exposure. The competent person is also held accountable for medical examinations including chest x-rays and lung function tests every three years for workers exposed at or above the action level for longer than a month within a year. It is also imperative that the firm provides the necessary tools to reduce and control the risk of silica dust exposure. This includes providing respirators when all other control tactics are not feasible or rendered ineffective for a job site.
There are many methods and tools that could be use to maintain the permissible exposure limit of silica dust exposure. Using water can drastically keep respirable crystalline silica dust out of the air. Some tools may feature an attachment that sprays water thus minimizing and controlling dust at the source. Another method of silica dust control is using a HEPA vacuum. Modern tools also feature a vacuum attachment to draw the silica dust in the air into certified HEPA-filters. This is a prominent tool used in the industry to reduce silica dust exposure. In larger affected areas, HEPA ventilation and filtration air systems can help mitigate silica dust exposure. These are often set up through vents and coupled with HEPA certified vents. If all else fails to reduce the silica dust exposure to the permissible exposure limit, a respirator should be used by every employee involved on the job site dealing with silica exposure. Respirator fit testing is required yearly to ensure that dust is kept out of airways and ultimately harming the employee. Some standard criteria for fit testing is: understanding the necessary respirator for the situation, having a clean shaven face for proper fit of the respirator, and knowing when to use or dispose of dirty filter cartridges of a respirator. Respirators are the final tool when all other control methods do not mediate the silica dust exposure.
Silica dust exposure could lead to serious health repercussions that could be acute, chronic or fatal. Illnesses caused by respirable crystalline silica dust exposure include: silicosis, lung cancer, COPD, and tuberculosis. Most of these illnesses do not have a cure and are hard to treat. Having all the right tools and preventable measures could save lives. The most important disease to understand is Silicosis: lung cancer of the upper lobe, caused by respirable crystalline silica creating scars and lesions in the lung. There are two forms of silicosis: acute and chronic. Acute silicosis could be diagnosed within weeks to years and attributes to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing weight loss and fatigue. On the other hand, chronic silicosis may lay dormant for up to three decades. Chronic silicosis causes lesions and scarring within the upper lobe of the lungs. Often diagnosed with a chest x-ray or a CT scan, there is no cure for either versions of silicosis.
It is highly expected that California firms could be inspected, audited and fined for not complying to OSHA’s final rule on respirable crystalline silica from now and within the coming years. NATEC International is dedicated to your firm’s safety and compliance with state and federal regulations. We can offer you services that could prevent inspectors from levying huge fines and causing financial distress. With almost three decades of training experience, we’ve developed two programs for silica hazard awareness. Our two hour program for silica hazard awareness is catered to the worker level, and is intended for personnel who are consistently exposed to respirable crystalline silica. Our four hour program for silica hazard awareness is for the supervisor level, and is intended for persons in charge of job sites that may expose workers to respirable crystalline silica. This program helps firms designate a competent person to be in charge of the written silica exposure control plans and its implementation.
Not only can we provide training to your firm, but also consulting services. Our team can assist your firm with silica plan writing for exposure controls, air sample monitoring, and respirator training and fit testing. Our priority is to ensure that your firm is safe and compliant. Call us today to book your class or inquire about our consulting services at (800) 969-3228.