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What You Need to Know about OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Policy

OSHA Construction Safety Regulations

In March 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration published the “Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica” policy, which is the agency’s first update to silica regulations since 1971. An estimated 600 lives per year are saved by this policy. It also prevents over 900 cases of silicosis annually.

This rule widely affects construction safety practices. If you need assistance in ensuring that your business is compliant with the guidelines, contact us here at Impact Safety Systems, Inc. We offer workplace safety training (including silica awareness training) and other services to help different organizations create safe and healthy workplaces.

Understanding Crystalline Silica

Crystalline silica is just one of the known lung carcinogens. It is also commonly found in building materials including granite, concrete, soil, and sand.

Workers who are not adequately protected run the risk of inhaling tiny crystalline silica particles while performing activities including the following:

• abrasive blasting with sand
• sanding/drilling concrete walls
• sawing concrete or brick
• grinding mortar
• crushing/cutting stone
• manufacturing concrete, stone, brick, or ceramic products

Respirable particles of crystalline silica may enter the lungs and form scar tissue, and in some cases, silicosis (a respiratory disease that has no cure and can potentially be fatal in severe cases). Exposure to this type of dust also increases lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease risks.

According to OSHA, about 2 million workers in the US are exposed to tiny particles of crystalline silica at their workplaces.

OSHA issued two distinct standards as part of this policy with the aim of tailoring requirements for different work environments. There is one for the construction industry and one for general and maritime industries. Both standards contain industry-specific controls and requirements that employers need to follow in ensuring compliance.

How will OSHA’s respirable crystalline silica policy affect your organization?

This final rule obligates covered employers to assess the exposure of their employees to silica if, when averaged over an 8-hour work shift, it may reach or exceed 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

According to this policy, the permissible exposure limit is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over an 8-hour work shift. This limit is lower than its 1971 counterpart as is consistent with the 1974 recommendations of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The policy also requires employers to develop written control plans, limit employee access to high-risk/high-exposure areas, and provide their workers with proper respiratory protection in cases when controls cannot limit exposures.

In addition, employers are required to provide medical exams to respirator-wearing workers every three years. All medical exam records and exposure measurements must be saved and maintained.

Finally, the policy requires businesses to provide construction safety and workplace safety training to educate their workers on silica exposure hazards and how to limit exposure risk.

Getting proper training

Impact Safety Systems, Inc. provides different training programs to help businesses of all sizes comply with the policy.

Lasting anywhere from two hours to a full day, depending on the requirements of the business, these courses help students understand the health risks of respirable crystalline silica exposure, what activities may result in exposure, and work practices/ engineering controls for mitigating hazards. The certification from these training programs doesn’t expire, but it’s a good idea to retrain staff every three years to ensure that everyone is updated on any changes and developments.

We also offer training for organizations that need to designate a ‘competent person’ who can identify existing and predictable respirable crystalline silica risks in the workplace. This competent person will be authorized to take corrective measures to promptly minimize (if not eliminate) those hazards as outlined in CFR 1926.1153.