Silica In Construction

July 10, 2018 | Ryan Kagarakis

Regulations that restrict business owners are an all-too-common theme in California. These same regulations are usually enacted with the intention of providing a safer working environment for employees but often fail to address it in a fair way to the employer. The most current silica regulation was constructed, enacted, and enforced in a similar manner.

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth's crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete, and mortar contain crystalline silica. It is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, and artificial stone. Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might find on beaches and playgrounds – is created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar.

In 2008, OSHA issued a new standard to address the issue of respirable silica in construction. OSHA standard 1530.1 primarily applied to contractors using concrete and masonry materials. The standard had exceptions for roof tile, stucco, wall cladding, downward drilling, incidental masonry/concrete drilling, and powder actuated tools.

OSHA standard 1532.3 went in to effect 9/23/2017 and broadened the scope of enforcement. All of the previously excluded items from the 2008 standard now require dust reduction systems. Furthermore, the new rule established a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 25 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air as an 8-hour Time-Weighted Average (TWA) in all industries covered by the rule. This lowers the permissible level by 50%!!! It also includes other provisions to protect employees, such as requirements for exposure assessment, methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping. If the employer has objective data proving that employee exposure is under 25 micrograms per cubic meter as an 8-hour TWA then no further action is required under the silica standard. If employee exposure is higher than 25 micrograms per cubic meter then the employer must follow the new OSHA standards for silica.

The most effective method of staying under the PEL is to use a Dust Reduction System:

  • Water: Use a tool with a water delivery system that supplies a continuous stream OR spray the water at the point of impact.
  • Local Exhaust Ventilation: Use tool equipped with commercially available shroud or dust collection system.

If employees are still exposed to silica level above the permissible level here are some highlights of the steps that must be taken to reduce their exposure:

  • Respiratory Protection: Employers must provide employees with appropriate respirators where required by the silica standard. The respirators must comply with requirements of the silica standard and with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard.
  • Housekeeping: No dry sweeping or dry brushing if the silica is airborne. No compressed air unless the air is captured and filtered. Wet sweeping and HEPA-filtered vacuums are required.
  • Written Exposure Control Plan: All employers covered by the standard must develop and implement a written exposure control plan. Written exposure control plans describe workplace exposures and ways to reduce those exposures, such as engineering controls, work practices, housekeeping methods, and restricting access to areas where high exposures occur.
  • Competent Person: The employer shall designate a competent person to make frequent and regular inspections of job sites, materials, and equipment to implement the exposure control plan. Employees MUST know the identity of the competent person.
  • Medical Surveillance: Employer must provide medical surveillance to all employees required to use a respirator for 30 or more days a year.

We firmly believe in the proper protection for employees but we also believe in the need for a fair balance between this regulation and the employer's ability to accommodate. This is a very brief overview of the full OSHA silica rule that spans hundreds of pages. As always, if you have specific questions regarding the rule or how it might apply to you please feel free to contact myself, OSHA, or your insurance representative.

Ryan Kagarakis
Property & Casualty Consultant
Brown & Brown Inc.

Mobile: 562.290.9051| Office: 916-625-4616