In mid 2017, compliance with the new Silica standard took affect for all of the construction industry. Although silica has been generated for years in construction and through that time has always been dangerous, only recently have studies been able to confirm that exposure to respirable silica is having effects on our workforce.
Silica – What is it and why is it so dangerous?
Silica is a mineral found in construction materials like sand, stone, concrete, brick and mortar. When workers cut, grind, drill or crush these materials, very small dust particles become airborn and travel into workers lungs causing incurable lung diseases – the main one is called silicosis. But its not like this happens overnight. These diseases occur after years of exposure to, keyword respirable crystalline silica. This hazard has always existed… and countless people have lost their lives as a result. It’s our job to inform and protect ourselves.
What do you need to do to protect yourself?
First, follow the standard! OSHA’s Table 1 was created to help outline previously tested methods for controlling exposure below the PEL. If you can follow table 1, do it and nothing else has to be done!
Second and much more cumbersome given you have to have time to order the equipment and results are difficult to measure, you can utilize what is called the ‘alternative control measures’. This is, simply put, using personal monitoring devices while performing silica generating tasks and wearing appropriate PPE to measure your exposure. Followed by the implementation of engineering controls and re-testing of the same procedure to ensure the PEL is not exceeded.
Are there any exceptions?
There are a few exceptions. The first, is for small hand tools such as a Hilti that have manufactured attachments that, when used in accordance with the manufacturers requirements, have test results proven to take employee exposure below the PEL.
The second, is in the small compliance entity guide where it specifically calls out members of certain trade groups who ‘intermittently drill holes’ to not have to implement dust control measures as long as the intermittent parameters are not being crossed. Given this is a vague response, if it applies to you, contact the safety department to get further clarification and to make sure we are protecting you and your crews to the best of our abilities.