OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction
By: Rebecca Reilly
OSHA has established new regulations for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction which are meant to protect workers from inhaling very small dust particles that can cause lung cancer or silicosis. Construction tasks such as: cutting mortar joints with a grinder, removing brick masonry with a chipping gun, or demolishing a sidewalk using a jackhammer can expose workers to respirable crystalline silica.
Certain methods can be implemented to monitor and control worker exposure. Contractors should first develop a plan to limit their crews’ exposure to silica. This plan should be in writing, and a competent person should be on-site to ensure that it’s being diligently followed. Construction companies are responsible for determining and tracking the silica exposure of their individual crew members. If a worker’s exposure cannot be limited, the contractor must provide respirators to that worker. If a worker is required to wear a respirator for more than 30 days per year, the contractor must offer a medical exam for the worker every three years. These medical exams would include chest x-rays to ensure that workers are not exhibiting signs of lung cancer or silicosis. Additionally, construction companies must keep accurate records of these scheduled medical exam and their results, including levels of exposure to silica. Some tools can be modified to prevent dust from getting into the air. For instance, a vacuum dust collection system can be attached to a grinder, or a wet saw can be used to cut bricks.
While adhering to the laws governing silica exposure is the responsibility of the contractor, building owners should also be aware of these new regulations, and how they can impact projects being performed at their buildings and their construction budgets. Not following the regulations can lead to stop work orders, violations and significant fines. Stop work orders delay the project until the conditions are addressed with OSHA and the Department of Buildings. In some cases, the building owner could be held responsible for the fines. As of January 2, 2018, OSHA increased these fines for violations to account for inflation. Additionally, these regulations will likely cause Contractors’ prices to increase, since more costly equipment is now required. For example, APF (Assigned Protection Factor) 25 respirators will be required for anyone using hand held grinders to remove mortar for more than 4 hours per shift. APF 10 respirators can now only be utilized by those workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica for less than 4 hours per day.