OSHA’s new rule on silica dust
OSHA has proposed a new rule to protect construction workers from the effects of inhaling crystalline silica particles (also called “respirable” particles).
Very small silica particles, 100 times smaller than sand, are created during construction and industrial-related operations, involving the grinding, crushing, cutting and drilling of block, brick, mortar, concrete, rock, stone, and pottery. Sandblasting and other industrial uses of sand, such as foundry work and hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells, are also sources of airborne silica dust particles.
Once inhaled, these particles can remain deep within the lungs and lead to serious illnesses, including silicosis (an incurable, often fatal respiratory lung disease), lung cancer, chronic pulmonary disease and kidney disease.
Currently OSHA enforces a standard that was adopted in 1971, using formulas known as PELs (Permissible Exposure Limits) to measure exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Newer scientific research has made it clear that these old standards do not adequately protect workers.
In addition, PEL formulas are difficult to understand and enforce, are often inconsistent and utilize methods that were developed more than 40 years ago. In fact, the current standard allows construction and shipyard workers to be exposed to almost twice the levels allowed for general industry workers.
Silicosis and other diseases linked to inhalation of respirable crystalline particles currently account for more than 700 deaths and there are 1,600 new cases each year. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. National Toxicology Program and the National Institute for Occupational and Safety Health (NIOSH), have all identified respirable crystalline silica as a human carcinogen.
To improve worker protection, OSHA will enforce two standards, one for construction and one for general industry and maritime operations. The new procedures mandated in these standards are based on extensive review of scientific evidence and current industry standards, as well as conferences with employers and employee organizations.
OSHA encourages input from the public and information about submitting comments and participation in public hearings about silicosis and the new standards can be found at www.osha.gov/silica.
The proposed rule on silica dust
Under the new rule, a worker’s exposure will be limited to a PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour day.
Other aspects of the new standard include newer methods for measuring how much silica workers are exposed to, limiting access to work areas where high concentrations of silica are present, more effective measures to reduce exposure, frequent medical exams for workers with high silica exposure, and training for workers and employers about silica related hazards.
When debris is moved through occupied areas (such as an interior renovation project) cover the debris container with a wet sheet so dust doesn’t become airborne.
While employers bear the responsibility for providing protective measures and PPE (personal protective equipment) for employees to prevent unsafe exposure to respirable silica, all workers should be aware of the following tips and practices:
• Be informed about the effects of inhaling silica dust, and what can cause it in your workplace
• Remember that even if dust is not clearly evident, you may still be at risk
• Avoid working in dust whenever possible
• Reduce the amount of silica dust by spraying water to wet the dust and limit its ability to become airborne
• Use proper ventilation in confined spaces and use fans equipped with HEPA filters
• Use saws that use water to automatically wet the blade, and drills that wet the bit
• Use grinders and similar tools that are fitted with a vacuum and dust containment feature
• Wear masks, respirators or other breathing apparatus that provides appropriate protection for the task at hand
• Be sure respirators are properly fitted and in working order. Mustaches and beards must be trimmed to permit a tight fit around the face
• Sandblasting or abrasive blasting creates the highest level of exposure and requires a special type of respirator
• Get regular lung screenings
• Don’t eat, drink or smoke in dusty environments
• Wash your hands before eating, drinking or smoking outside dusty environments
• Change into disposable or washable work clothes, and if possible shower after exposure
• Park work vehicles where they will not be contaminated with silica
• Understand your employer’s responsibility to provide proper training, PPE and work environments to reduce potential inhalation within safe limits
Anyone with an interest or concern regarding exposure to respirable crystalline silica should view OSHA’s “Deadly Dust” Silica video at osha.gov/silica/index.html to learn more.
When sweeping a floor, use two or three short strokes and then gently tap the floor before beginning the next set of strokes. This will kick up much less dust than using longer more aggressive strokes.