Compliance with Crystalline Silica Standards Stressed at NSC

A Monday session at this year's #NSCExpo explored the differences between OSHA's respirable crystalline silica regulations for construction versus those for general industry, as well as ways for general industry to comply with the standard.

HOUSTON – The OSHA standard for respirable crystalline silica for general industry and maritime went into enforcement on June 23, 2018. At the National Safety Council Congress & Expo in Houston, an Oct. 22 session looked at how those in the construction industry approached compliance with the silica standard for construction, and what lessons could be applied to compliance with the general industry standard.

Senior Safety Advisor for Conney Safety Products David Jewell and CSP Safety Services Manager at Conney Michael Tesmer gave a rundown on respirable crystalline silica. Jewell said approximately 2 million construction workers are affected by the material, versus about 300,000 in general industry.

"Some people have labeled this the next asbestos scare," Jewell said.

Respirable crystalline silica starts about 4 microns in particle size, or about 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, Jewell said. The material can get buried in lung tissue to cause scarring of the lungs. It poses dangers to the lungs, kidneys, and immune system.

While the silica standard for general industry and maritime does not include the same Table 1 of common activities as the construction standard, it can be a useful reference point for GI, Tesmer said. General industry work practices that can cause silica exposure include cement and foundry production, hydraulic fracturing, shipbuilding, and asphalt pavement manufacturing, they said.

Jewell and Tesmer outlined some ways to reduce exposure, including the substituting materials that have no crystalline silica, isolating employees or the source of silica, and use of ventilation, vacuum, and wetting systems.

"Think about what [workers] are doing when they've got this silica on their clothes—think about how people are cleaning up," Jewell said. He stressed the importance of thoughtfulness in where and how workers could be exposed.

They suggested the use of sweeping compounds or wetting the floor before dry sweeping as part of housekeeping practices toward compliance and containing silica exposure.

As part of compliance with the standard, an employer's respiratory protection program must include air quality testing, a written program, medical evaluations and surveillance, fit testing of equipment, and training. If a workplace is over the Permissible Exposure Limit, employers are required to offer employees medical surveillance. Beginning in 2020, medical surveillance must be offered to employees if the silica exposure is over the action limit.

Jewell was adamant that employers take appropriate steps to protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposure.

"OSHA's the starting point as far as I'm concerned," Jewell said. "If you want to make sure your employees are safe, you need to go beyond compliance."

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