2017 OSHA Silica Dust Exposure Regulations
In order to improve worker safety standards, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, passed a new ruling on June 23, 2016 that aims to reduce the amount of silica dust that workers breathe in on jobsites. Under this ruling, all employers will be responsible for preventing employees from inhaling silica dust in amounts that exceed the permissible exposure limit, or PEL, but will most significantly impact professionals in the construction industry. Originally scheduled for June 23, 2017, OSHA has revised the compliance deadline to September 23, 2017. The new ruling will reduce worker exposure to no more than 50 micrograms of silica dust over an eight hour shift will go into effect in the construction industry. The health risks associated with silica dust combined with the 2016 OSHA violation penalty increase make it critical that employers comply with this new ruling.
Material containing silica
The demand for a reduction of silica dust in the construction industry relates to the fact that workers in this field are exposed to a wide variety of products containing silica. Common construction material containing silica includes:
- Concrete, including ready-mix concrete
- Stone products
- Structural clay
- Glass products
- Certain types of paint and coatings
When these products are drilled, crushed, cut or abraded, they release silica dust in the air. This dust is toxic when inhaled in high amounts and can lead to a variety of health complications.
Health threats caused by silica dust
Long-term silica dust inhalation poses a threat to worker safety because of the numerous symptoms and illnesses that it causes, which range from moderate to life-threatening. Health complications and diseases caused by silica dust include:
- Lung cancer
- Kidney disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD
The last disease on the list, silicosis, is an especially serious threat to workers in the construction industry. It is an occupational illness that causes inflammation and nodules of the lung, and can lead to long-term breathing problems. Alarmingly, the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, estimates that there are potentially 2 million workers in the United States who will potentially be exposed to high levels of silica. This potential threat to work safety is part of the reason why OSHA passed the new rule to minimize silica levels on the job.
Employer responsibilities for limiting silica dust inhalation
The specific requirements for minimizing levels of silica dust on jobsites are outlined in OSHA regulation 29 CFR 1926.1153. In general, employers must implement the use of engineering controls in conjunction with jobsite equipment to regulate silica dust to the minimum permissible exposure limit, or PEL. Engineering controls include equipment that uses water or air ventilation to control dust. Engineering controls are required to be used when workers operate equipment that cuts, drills, saws, grinds, mills or crushes over an eight hour shift. Some of the new ventilation standards include:
- Dust extractors:
- Must be equipped with commercially-available shroud
- Must have filter-cleaning mechanism
- Must have at least 99% efficiency with HEPA filter
- Application based specifications:
- HEPA required for hole-cleaning applications
- 25 CFM per inch of wheel for all grinding applications
- Water connection specifications:
- Must have integrated water delivery system on tool
- Must continuously feed water to point of contact
If the engineering controls do not meet the PEL of 50 micrograms of silica dust per cubic meter of air over an 8 hour shift, then employers are also required to provide personal respiratory devices for workers exposed to silica dust.
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Additionally, employers must also develop written silica dust exposure plans, offer medical treatment to workers exposed to high levels of silica, and provide training to workers about the risks of silica dust and how to limit exposure.