OSHA Construction Update: Crystalline Silica

By Julia Hanold December 13, 2017 , , , , ,


OSHA recently issued a new standard lowering crystalline silica levels in order to protect workers from respiratory illness.

Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than sand you may find on the beach or a playground – is created during activities like cutting and drilling, into stone, concrete and other like materials. About 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work.

Inhaling crystalline silica can increase a worker’s risk of cancer, autoimmune diseases, kidney disease, and other severe illnesses. It is very important to the safety of our workers and all construction workers that we comply with these new standards.

Along with the danger to one’s health, OSHA has been implementing hefty fines upwards of $50,000 to employers who are overexposing their workers to crystalline silica. Now that the PEL has been lowered from 250μg/m3 to 50μg/m3, many more businesses may face these same fines if they do not comply.

The standard provides flexible alternatives, which OSHA expects will be especially useful for small employers. Employers can either use the control methods laid out in Table 1 of the construction standard, or they can measure workers’ exposure to silica and independently decide which dust controls work best to limit exposures to the PEL (Permitted Exposure Limit) in their workplace. Here is the handheld saw example from Table 1, look here to see it in its complete form.

Regardless of which exposure control method is used, all construction employers covered by the standard are required to:

  • Establish and implement a Written Exposure Control Plan (WECP) that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
  • Designate a competent person to be on site at all times and implement the written exposure control plan.
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
  • Offer medical exams-including chest X-rays and lung function tests-every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
  • Train workers on operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
  • Keep records of exposure measurements, objective data, and medical exams.

When are employers required to comply with the standard?
Construction employers were required to comply new the standard by September 23, 2017.

Please read the OSHA Fact Sheet in place for this new standard, and contact them with any questions you may have. American Pool is dedicated to complying with these new standards in an effort to protect our workers and construction workers everywhere.