How’s your progress on the new OSHA silica requirements?

On March 25, 2016, OSHA issued the final rule on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica in the Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926.1153). This rule became effective on June 23, 2016. Under the standard, most all obligations were initially scheduled to commence on June 23, 2017. To provide the opportunity to conduct additional outreach to the regulated community and to provide additional time to train compliance officers, OSHA delayed enforcement of this standard until September 23, 2017.

This standard 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 (25 μg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) under any foreseeable conditions.

GFA works with construction companies at every level and phase of construction. We are working with many of our clients to achieve compliance with the new standard. However, we are finding that many of our clients are not ready for the upcoming deadline.

In an effort to help those with questions, we’ve gathered some questions and answers here:

Q: What products contain crystalline silica?

A: Crystalline silica is present in almost every facet of the construction process.  Although not an all-inclusive list, here are a number of products containing crystalline silica:

  • Sand
  • Asphalt
  • Concrete
  • Mortar
  • Gunnite
  • Shotcrete
  • Pre-cast panels
  • Pre-formed water/sewer pipes
  • Stones, Marbles, Granites, Rock, Terrazzo
  • Stucco, Plaster, Porcelain, Gesso
  • Drywall, Greenboard, Joint Compound
  • Bricks, Tiles, Cement Roof Tile
  • Glass

Q: How do I know if I need to comply?

A: If you use products that contain crystalline silica and have a potential exposure above the action level of 25 μg/m3 you need to do exposure monitoring (air sampling) to see where you stand.

Q: I heard there is a new Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL).

A: Yes, the new PEL limits worker exposures to 50 μg/m3 of air, averaged over an eight-hour day. This level is the same for all workplaces covered by the standard (general industry/maritime and construction). It is roughly half (50%) of the previous PEL for general industry, and approximately 20% of previous PEL for construction and shipyards.  This is a significant reduction from the previous PEL in the Construction standard of approximately 250 μg/m3.

Q: How many workers and businesses are impacted?

A: Approximately 676,000 workplaces will be affected, including those in construction and in general industry and maritime. OSHA estimates about 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica.

Q: I am a small business.  Do I have to comply?

A: This standard applies to ALL occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica in construction work, except where employee exposure will remain below the action level of 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) under any foreseeable conditions.  If you can demonstrate that the standard does not apply to you, because you do not have exposures above the action level under any foreseeable conditions, then you would not have to comply with the new standard.

Q: I am a small subcontractor. What does this have to do with me?

A: As mentioned above, you must comply with the standard if you have any occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica above the action level.  Additionally, we are working with many of our large General Contractors on this regulation and how silica dust will be managed on job sites and how contracts may need to be revised to reflect the new regulation.  We expect that you may be required to demonstrate your compliance with the regulation to these types of entities.

Q: Briefly, what is required?

A: If you must comply, there are many requirements that must be fully implemented by September 23, 2017.  The key provisions include:

  • Establishes an action level of 25 µg/m3
  • Reduces the PEL for respirable crystalline silica to 50 µg/m3 of air averaged over an 8-hour shift
  • Requires employers to:
    • Determine method of compliance (Table 1 or exposure monitoring)
    • 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
    • Establish a silica competent person
    • Offer medical exams to highly exposed workers
    • Fit test workers required to wear respirators
    • Train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures

Q: How does this impact my other safety programs?

A: At a minimum, you should update your written Hazard Communication program (if needed), and perform and document additional training.  You may have to prepare a written Respiratory Protection Program if workers need to wear respiratory protection.

Q: Can OSHA delay enforcement again?

A: The new regulation is in effect as of June 23, 2016.  OSHA has currently established September 23, 2017 as the date where full compliance by the construction industry is expected and enforcement begins.  If this is delayed, OSHA will publish the change.  However, we inform our clients that there has been a requirement to test and control respirable crystalline silica for many years.  OSHA has been enforcing regulations on crystalline silica all along and can continue doing so.  There are many unique requirements in this new regulation and the majority of our clients require some degree of exposure monitoring.  It will be very difficult to achieve full compliance with the new standard by September 23, 2017 if you wait much longer to begin working on the requirements.

Q: How can GFA help you?

A: We have a team of industrial hygienists and safety professionals ready to assist you on all requirements including:

  • Overall Safety Consulting
  • Outsourcing your safety program needs
  • Exposure Monitoring (Air sampling)
  • Job Hazard Analysis
  • Written Program Development
    • Silica Exposure Control Plan
    • Hazard Communication
    • Respiratory Protection
  • Respirator Fit Testing
  • Training Classes
    • Silica General Awareness-for employees
    • More extensive training for the Silica Competent Person requirement
    • Hazard Communication
    • Respiratory Protection Program

We welcome more of your questions.  Please contact us at mmcintyre@teamgfa.com or 239-489-2443 for support.

Michelle McIntyre, MPH, CIH, CSP

Michelle McIntyre, MPH, CIH, CSP

Director of Environmental Health and Safety

Ms. McIntyre has over 20 years of experience in technical and regulatory aspects of environmental and public health, industrial hygiene, and health and safety for clients on the East and West coasts of the U.S. She provides environmental health and safety services to a broad range of clients and sectors, including commercial real estate, healthcare, educational facilities, research and development organizations, manufacturing, heavy and light industry, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers.