Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction

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One of the hottest topics around the “safety table” for construction involves the new OSHA standard developed to protect exposed workers from the respirable crystalline silica. The enforcement date for Construction began September 23, 2017, for all obligations of the standard except methods of sample analysis which will be enforced starting June 23, 2018.

Many in the construction industry are examining their workplace exposures to silica and trying to determine the best approach to protect employees while developing an appropriate Exposure Control Plan (ECP) based on the applicability of their operations to the new standard.  The following information is designed to assist those who are still trying to understand and comply with the OSHA requirements under 1926.1153.

The standard applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica in construction work, except where employee’s exposures are below the Action Level (AL) which is 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) under any foreseeable conditions.

Requirements

According to the standard, employers must use engineering controls and work practices as the primary way to keep exposures at or below the PEL (50 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an 8-hour TWA). Example controls that may be used to keep silica-containing dust out of the air and out of workers’ lungs include:

  • Wetting down work operations.
  • Using local exhaust ventilation (such as vacuums).
  • Enclosing an operation ("process isolation").
  • Wetting down dust before sweeping it up.
  • Using the water flow rate recommended by the manufacturer for a tool with water controls.
  • Implementing administrative controls to reduce or limit task exposures.
  • Using respirators but only when engineering and work practice controls cannot maintain exposures at or below the PEL.

The standard also contains a unique, flexible option for employers whose employees are engaged in the construction tasks listed in Table 1(recreated by AGC) at 29 CFR 1926.1153(c)(1).

The employer must comply with paragraph (d) (the PEL, exposure assessment and methods of compliance requirements) for all employees engaged in (or in proximity to) tasks not listed on Table 1 or where the employer has not fully and properly implemented the engineering controls, work practice and respiratory protection listed in Table 1. In doing so, employers must maintain air monitoring records or other data used to assess exposures.

Exposure Assessment

Under 29 CFR 1926.1153(d)(2), employers must assess the exposure of each employee who is or may be potentially exposed to respirable crystalline silica at or above the AL using either the performance option or the scheduled monitoring option.

Performance Option

This assessment allows employers to assess the 8-hour TWA exposure for each employee on the basis of any combination of air monitoring data or objective data sufficient to accurately characterize employee exposures to respirable crystalline silica.

AGC has put together an example silica monitoring form.

Scheduled Monitoring Option

This exposure assessment option requires both initial monitoring as soon as the work begins to determine exposure levels and implement controls as well as periodic monitoring at specified intervals based on the most recent results. The monitoring must assess the 8-hour TWA exposure for each employee on the basis of one or more personal breathing zone air samples that reflect the exposures on each shift, each job classification and work area.

Exposure Control Plan (ECP)

Employers must establish and implement a written exposure control plan (ECP) that contains certain specified elements. The written ECP will designate a Competent Person to make frequent and regular inspections of job sites, materials and equipment to ensure the ECP is implemented. The written ECP must be reviewed at least annually to evaluate the effectiveness of it and update it as necessary.

An example Respirable Crystalline Silica Program and Exposure Control Plan can help guide you through this process.

Other Requirements Include:

  • Respiratory protection is required for tasks not listed in Table 1 or tasks where the employer has not fully and properly implemented the Table 1 controls.
  • The standard prohibits sweeping and dry brushing of materials that could contribute to employee exposures to respirable crystalline silica unless wet sweeping, HEPA-filtered vacuuming or other methods that minimize the likelihood of exposure are not feasible.
  • Medical surveillance is required every three years from the employee’s last examination that met the requirements of the silica standard if the employee will continue to perform tasks that require respirator use under the silica standard for 30 or more days per year.
  • Employers are required to include hazards from Respirable Crystalline Silica in their hazards communication program.
  • Training shall be performed by the employer or the employer’s designate.
  • Employers are required to make and keep accurate records of air monitoring data and objective data used to assess employee exposures to Respirable Crystalline Silica under the standard, as well as records of medical surveillance and training provided under the standard.
  • In general, records must be maintained for at least 30 years.

Click Here to Download the Full Resource Guide Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction: Protecting Your Employees and Staying Compliant.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss these new OSHA standards, please feel free to contact me directly at POConnor@rcmd.com or at 410.769.6498.

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