Starting next Saturday, September 23, the new OSHA silica rules will be in full effect. Any contractor who does anything involving respirable crystalline silica, now is the time to comply.
If you (or any of your subcontractors) cut, grind, or blast concrete, stone, or brick, these new rules are just for you.
The initial silica standards were put in place in 1971 after forty years of questions and complaints. Now, these stricter standards are in place to lessen the amount of dust that workers inhale. It’s important to note, this not only applies to you the contractor, but to anyone working with or around these materials.
Many people are asking, “What’s the big deal?” and we’re here to answer that question. It’s imperative that we all make a change now. The particles are 100 times smaller than a grain of sand. If someone were to inhale the dust, the repercussions could be lethal. From lung disease to lung cancer, kidney disease, or pulmonary disease, the negative possibilities clearly outweigh the extra paperwork.
The new limits have been reduced from 250 micrograms per cubic meter to 50 micrograms over the course of an eight hour day of work. The fines are steep too. The maximum fine for non-compliance is $12,675 for a violation, $12,675 per day for any failure-to-abate violations, and $126,749 for repeated violations.
On the employer side, there are initiatives in place to make everything safer for all parties.
In addition to the decreased exposure limits, there are also six things all contractors and General Contractors need to take care of.
First, firms must have a written exposure plan for any silica related instances. This plan could and should include wearing respirators, wetting work down.
Second, someone must be in charge of that plan.
Third, someone must be tasked with keeping up housekeeping items so silica dust is kept to a minimum. In this case, using tools like a wet saw or using a vacuum device to reduce the volume of dust would be fantastic.
Fourth, if an employee is exposed to silica and/or has to wear a respirator for 30+ days, employers have to provide medical exams. The exams include chest x-rays and lung-tests.
Fifth, all workers must be trained on how to limit exposure to silica.
Lastly, there must be a set of records on the overall exposure to silica and/or any related medical treatments.
So, whether you’re a one-person operation, or a fifty-person team, these standards are going to affect everyone. Keep an eye on any of the subcontractors you work with to make sure everyone is protected.
If you’re looking for more information, check out OSHA.gov or download this book to learn more on staying in compliance. This free document explains what an OSHA office will be looking for and why they might issue a citation.