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OSHA’s New Silica Rule Goes Into Effect

On September 23, 2017, OSHA’s new Crystalline Silica Rule went into effect, a rule expected to curtail silicosis and other lung-related diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, by limiting workers’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

The new rule encompasses two standards – one for the construction industry, and one for general and maritime industries. By reducing the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) from the previous standard of 250 micrograms per cubic feet of air, to the current standard of 50 micrograms per cubic feet of air as an 8-hour Time Weighted Average (TWA), OSHA estimates that this rule will save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year. It is also expected to provide net benefits of approximately $7.7 billion annually.

In the construction industry alone, OSHA estimates that more than 840,000 workers are exposed to silica levels above the new PEL. Most of these exposures occur during routine construction tasks such as grinding, jackhammering, drilling, sawing, cutting, and chipping silica-containing materials like concrete and stone.

The new rule requires employers to limit worker exposure to silica and protect them by following control methods laid out in Table 1 of the standard, or to determine workers’ exposure and independently decide which dust control methods work best to limit exposures to the PEL in their workplaces.

Some of the control methods include engineering controls that involve the use of tools with integrated water delivery systems, as well as tools equipped with commercially available shroud and dust collection systems. The standard prohibits dry sweeping methods and the use of compressed air where employees could become exposed to silica. It requires that all construction employers covered by the standard complete the following:

  • Establish and implement a written exposure plan
  • Designate a competent person to implement the plan
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available
  • Offer medical exams or surveillance every three years for workers who are required to wear respirators for more than 30 days per year

Faith Technologies’ preparations to meet the new silica standard started months before it went into effect. In April 2017, we partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Labor to conduct a baseline air monitor test on a sampling of our employees. The employees were outfitted with dust collection devices near their breathing zones while performing the task of installing a row of strut rack, which involved drilling ½” holes directly overhead.

The results of the test proved a majority of our tasks that are carried out on a routine basis have exposure levels that fall below OSHA’s action level of 25 micrograms per cubic feet of air as an 8-hour TWA. Because Faith Technologies has chosen the alternate exposure method and not to fully implement Table 1 in the standard, no action is required for most of our tasks. However, we will continue to eliminate or limit potential exposure by using engineering and other control measures where necessary.

We’ve also developed an exposure and control plan and designated competent persons to implement the plan on all of our job sites. Faith Technologies has developed a Tool Box Talk that is being used to train our employees.

One of Faith Technologies’ core values is an uncompromised focus on keeping people safe, and we strive to uphold this value on a daily basis. Meeting and exceeding the requirements in OSHA’s new silica standard is just one of the ways we do so; what is your company doing to keep employees safe?