OSHA Delays New Silica Rule for Construction Companies

construction companies

If you own or work for construction companies, you probably already know that your field is ranked among the top 10 most dangerous professions in America.

But it’s not just the risks associated with heights, heavy equipment, and power tools. There are also many hidden dangers for construction workers – even invisible ones.

One such danger is crystalline silica dust.

Why is exposure to this substance so dangerous?

And why should you personally be concerned about OSHA’s new regulations?

Read on to learn more about how to keep yourself, your employees, and your construction company safe!

What is crystalline silica?

Crystalline silica is a basic part of sand, granite, soil, quartz, and other minerals.

When cutting, drilling, chipping, or grinding any object containing it may become small enough to be inhaled.

In this tiny form, silica is classified as a lung carcinogen and can pose serious health threats to you and your workers.

What are the risks of exposure?

Exposure to crystalline silica can result in conditions such as:

  • Silicosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Tuberculosis
  • Kidney disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Other respiratory ailments

Who is at risk?

Over 2 million workers in 600,000 U.S. construction companies are exposed to crystalline silica.

As many as 840,000 of them may be breathing in more than the permissible limit of this toxic substance.

Construction activities that result in the highest levels of exposure include:

  • Sandblasting
  • Jackhammering
  • Well drilling
  • Concrete mixing and drilling
  • Block cutting and sawing
  • Cement and brick manufacturing
  • Tunneling

Because of these risks, OSHA has established a set limit to the number of hours a worker can be exposed to silica during a work day.

Additionally, the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for crystalline silica has been lowered to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

What practical steps can I take to protect myself and my employees?

You wouldn’t dream of sending your employees to a job site without the proper safety equipment.

Protecting them from crystalline silica exposure is no different.

OSHA recommends the following steps for construction companies:

  • If possible, replace silica materials with safe, approved substitutes.
  • Use water sprays and other available methods to limit airborne dust.
  • When doing abrasive blasting, wear only a Type CE supplied-air respirator.
  • If you’re an employer, offer training, monitoring, and health screening programs. If you’re an employee, take advantage of these options!
  • Wash your hands and face often, especially before eating, drinking, or smoking.
  • Use engineering controls such as blasting cabinets, local exhaust ventilation, or other protective measures.
  • Never alter a respirator.
  • Never wear a tight-fitting respirator if you have a mustache or beard. It may be impossible to get a proper seal.
  • Shower after your shift if facilities are available, or wear disposable work clothes and change before you drive home.

What does OSHA’s standard require of construction companies?

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recently announced a delay in the enforcement of crystalline silica standards.

The new regulations were supposed to go into effect on June 23, 2017. Construction companies now have until September 23, 2017, to fully comply with OSHA’s silica standards.

Employers have two options when it comes to the new silica standards.

They can choose to use a control method of the construction standard, or they can independently measure exposure and create their own dust control system for their workplace.

Regardless of which method you choose, all construction employers are required to do the following six things:

  1. Create a written, visible exposure control plan that lists high-exposure tasks and how workers can safely protect themselves.
  2. Designate a qualified employee to execute the control plan.
  3. If alternatives are available, restrict housekeeping activities that expose workers to high amounts of silica.
  4. Workers who wear a respirator for more than 30 days per year must be offered medical exams every three years, including lung function tests and chest X-rays.
  5. Train employees in best practices to limit silica exposure.
  6. Keep records of employees’ silica exposure and results of related medical exams.

Why are these new regulations so important?

The dangers of crystalline silica exposure were first publicized after a series of worker deaths in the 1930’s.

When OSHA was founded in 1971, the department created standards to protect construction workers from silica exposure.

Over the past 45 years, new industries have emerged that expose workers to high levels of silica, such as hydraulic fracturing and artificial countertop fabrication.

The standards created in 1971 are outdated and do not provide enough protection against the dangers of silica-related illnesses.

OSHA predicts that the new regulations could save as many as 600 lives and prevent 900 new cases of silicosis each year.

They also estimate that this new rule will provide annual net benefits of $7.7 billion.

Why is OSHA delaying enforcement?

Due to the unique nature of crystalline silica, more time was needed to conduct community outreach and develop additional guidance materials.

More educational materials are being developed for construction companies, along with enforcement guidance for workers.

The delay is also providing the opportunity to train more compliance officers.

What does all of this mean for me and my construction company?

Construction jobs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

OSHA was established to protect the health and livelihood of all of those workers – including your employees.

Non-compliance with any of OSHA’s standards could spell disaster for you and your company.

The fact that you’ve read this article proves that worker health and safety is one of your top priorities – as it should be.

It is your duty as a responsible employer to protect your workers from the harmful effects of overexposure to crystalline silica.

If you have any questions about the new rule, OSHA provides more information about federal and state-specific plans for employers.

With OSHA’s new regulations set to take effect shortly, you’ll be better equipped than ever before to create a safe and productive environment for your employees.

What are your thoughts on the new regulations for silica exposure? Leave your opinion in the reply box below!

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