The new silica dust rules will eliminate dusty job sites like this. Photo: Wikimedia
The new silica dust rules will eliminate dusty job sites like this. Photo: Wikimedia

At the 2016 American Society of Concrete Contracts annual conference in Minneapolis, Minn., Brad Hammock, a lawyer who defends employers against OSHA enforcement actions, gave a presentation on OSHA’s new final rule on crystalline silica, and what industry members need to know about it.

The rule went into effect on June 23, 2016, but contractors have until June 23, 2017 to be in compliance. The rule applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica in construction work, except where employee exposure will remain below 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an 8-hours’ time-weighted average (TWA) under any foreseeable conditions.

OSHA’s first rule of compliance is Table 1, which must be followed exactly as stated or else Table 1 cannot be used. Here are some alternative exposure control methods if the employer can’t fully comply with Table 1:

  • Permissible exposure limit (PEL)--measure and make sure no workers have exposure over the 50 micrograms per cubic meter TWA.
  • Exposure assessment--assess the potential exposure of each employee and take action if needed.
  • Methods of compliance--use engineering and work practice controls to reduce and maintain employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica below the PEL.

For a complete description of each of these alternatives, click here.

Here are a few of the provisions outlined by OSHA:

  • Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan; offer medical exams to highly exposed workers; and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
  • Employers must pay for a physician or other licensed health care professional to provide medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and give them information about their lung health.
  • Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.

Employers will need to train employees on health hazards, specific tasks that could increase risks, engineering controls, and the purpose and description of the medical surveillance program. Tool manufacturers will help contractors comply with OSHA by developing new tools that will help to meet the Table 1 provisions.

The rule is finalized and the compliance date will be here before we know it, Will you be ready?