Crystalline Silica Rules in Effect

Beginning September 23, 2017 OSHA began enforcement of the crystalline silica standard applicable to the construction industry.  Crystalline silica is present in sand, stone and is commonly a component of concrete, masonry, and tile.  Workers are typically exposed when cutting grinding, crushing or drilling into such materials.

OSHA reports that workers who inhale these particles are at an increased risk of developing serious silica related diseases.  The new standards apply to all occupational exposures unless the workers exposure remains below 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an eight hour time weighted average.  To implement the rules, an employer has two options for controlling exposure – either utilize the Specified Exposure Control Method or utilize alternative exposure methods.

The rules specify acceptable control methods for 18 common pieces of construction equipment which generally requires utilization of wetting or vacuuming and respiratory protection depending on the anticipated duration of exposure.  A number of additional methods are required for enclosed spaces depending on the situation.

For tasks not identified in the rule, or when an employer does not implement the stated protections as set forth in the rule, the employer must implement acceptable alternative exposure control methods.  Utilization of alternative methods first require an employer to perform an exposure assessment.  The assessment is either a combination of air-monitoring data and objective data to categorize the employees’ exposure, or, initial air-monitoring followed by subsequent reassessment monitoring. OSHA, of course dictates the procedures for monitoring and the results must be provided to the employee.

The rule outright prohibits dry sweeping or the use of compressed air to clean clothing or surfaces, unless no other alternative method is feasible.

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 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 and ways to limit exposure.
  • Keep records of exposure measurements, objective data, and medical exams.

Needless to say the goal of the rule is to protect worker exposure to crystalline silica. The question remains whether the rules appropriately implement those protections and balances the reality of the construction work site.  Toward this end various industry organizations have filed a petition for review arguing that the rule as adopted is technologically and economically infeasible.  The Court has yet to rule on the challenge.

If you have any questions related to this issue, please contact David Raves at [email protected] or call 412.242.4400.