Crystalline silica is found in many construction materials, including concrete, stone, and brick masonry. The inhalation of silica dust is thought to contribute to the formation of many health hazards, including lung cancer, silicosis, COPD, and kidney disease. Estimates have shown that silica exposure kills 600 American workers and results in 900 new cases of silicosis each year, OSHA has been working on tightening its rules regarding the exposure to this type of dust for several years and has finally issued a new “final rule,” it’s first update on the rule since 1971.
The updated rule, which will go into effect for the construction industry on June 23, 2017, specifies the following:
Exposure limits reduced
Workers are now limited to being exposed to only 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over an 8 hour shift. This is 5 times less than the previous allowable limit of 250 micrograms. 1 microgram is equivalent to one millionth of a gram.
Requirement of engineering controls and/or PPE
Water and ventilation practices to limit worker exposure are required when exposures exceed the allowable limit. When the engineering practices are not enough to keep dust levels under the limit, the employer is then required to provide respiratory protection for workers. The employer is also responsible for training employees and providing medical exams for highly exposed workers
Table of specified controls
Clearly, not many people understand what 50 micrograms of dust looks like, nor should they. Because of that, OSHA has included a table of specified controls in order to clear up uncertainties for construction employers. For example, when workers are using a stationary masonry saw, they should be using a saw that is equipped with a water delivery system that continuously feeds water to the blade. In doing so, they are not required to wear respiratory protection. Handheld power saws should also be used with a water delivery system, but require a respiratory protection with a factor of APF 10 when outdoors and exposed for greater than 4 hours and all the time, when indoors. Click the link above to see the rest.
Many construction organizations are unhappy with the new rule, including all of the members of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC). According to the group, which includes the Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated General Contractors, National Association of Home Building, among many others, OSHA has “not met its burden of demonstrating that the proposal is technologically and economically feasible.“ Though the group ultimately has the desire to protect the industry’s employees, it wants to make sure new rulings don’t put an undue pressure on employers that would not allow them to live up to their end of the bargain.
“Instead of crafting a new standard that the construction industry can comply with, administration officials have instead opted to set a new standard that is well beyond the capabilities of current air filtration and dust removal technologies,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, in a press release. “Our concern is that this new rule will do little to improve workplace health and safety, which is why we will continue our review of the new measure, consult with our members and decide on a future course of action that will best serve the health and safety of millions of construction workers across the country.”
In a document released in March of 2013, the CISC not only deemed the new rule technologically and economically infeasible, but also unnecessary. According to the Center of Disease Control, silica related deaths have dropped by 93 percent from 1968 to 2007. The organization also stated that it believes OSHA’s estimate for how much the new rule would cost the industry was very far from reality. While OSHA expects the program to cost $511 million for companies to comply, the CISC estimates total costs to be almost $5 BILLION.
No matter which side you fall on, one thing’s for sure. These two sides need to come to some sort of compromise to make this program successful.