There is an unassailable scientific reason OSHA and state OSHA authorities have regulations to protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
The goal: to reduce the risks of life-altering and deadly diseases. Or, more simply, the effects of silica.
Such life-altering hazards include: Developing kidney disease, autoimmune diseases, and non-malignant respiratory impairments such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Deadly and irreversible diseases such as lung cancer and silicosis have no cure; prevention is the only option.
OSHA Silica Standards
Over the past three years, OSHA issued two separate silica standards – one for general industry and maritime (29 CFR 1910.1053), and the other for construction (29 CFR 1926.1153).
In Table 1 of the silica standard for construction work, OSHA outlined 18 tasks that may expose employees to respirable crystalline silica. These tasks range from the use of stationary and hand-held saws, to the operation of heavy equipment and utility vehicles for abrading and excavating silica-containing materials.
For each job, a hierarchy of engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection methods are specified to limit employee exposure to an airborne concentration of respirable crystalline silica of less than 50 μg/m3, calculated as an 8-hour TWA.
Engineering controls include such things as wet methods, local exhaust ventilation, and isolation (such as in a ventilated control booth or enclosed cab). Wetting silica dust before sweeping is an example of a work practice.
Silica Protection Methods
Respiratory protection methods work best after engineering and work practice controls have initially reduced exposure levels. As a result of lower exposure levels, less costly options and more flexibility may, for example, allow employers to provide approved half-mask respirators instead of full-facepiece respirators.
To prevent exposure to respirable crystalline silica, employers must first “assess the 8-hour TWA exposure for each employee who is or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica at or above the action level of 25 µg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA.” Employers can then decide between two options for assessing exposures: the performance option, or the scheduled monitoring option.
Besides exposure assessment, methods for controlling exposure, and respiratory protection provisions to protect employees, the OSHA silica standard also requires that employers establish, mark, and control access to areas where silica-containing operations take place. Also, employers must have a written exposure control plan which, among other elements, describes such things as housekeeping measures used to limit employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
Most importantly, employers must provide initial and periodic medical examinations.
Effects of Silica: OSHA Inspections and Citations
Between October 2018 & September 2019, OSHA conducted a total of 156 industry inspections and issued 394 citations of the silica standard for a total of $602,597.
The construction industry was by far the largest sector fined, with 372 of the 394 citations totaling $589,882.
On-Site Silica Physical Exams
Medical surveillance testing helps employers like you to create OSHA-compliant occupational health & safety programs.
These required programs both reduce the effects of silica, and stay ahead of underlying health issues within in employees. And, they limit excessive workers’ compensation claims while keeping your company from OSHA fines and citations.
Worksite Medical brings the entire clinic right to your facility, at your convenience, with on-site medical surveillance testing.
From blood work and drug testing to OSHA physicals, flu shots and wellness events, we’ve got you covered.
Stay ahead of OSHA, and keep your workplace safe and compliant.
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