The Worker Exposure Plan

The Worker Exposure Plan

Understanding 1926.1153 Respirable Crystalline Silica for Construction.

In 2017, OSHA revised the silica standard which was written with typical OSHA health hazard controls such as assessing your employee’s potential exposure, having your hazard communication in place and ensuring an effective respirator program is being enforced.

OSHA added a few unique twists to the silica standard that will assist the construction industry with compliance measures, such as the Specified Exposure Control Methods, more commonly known as “Table 1.” Table 1 consist of 18 common tasks using various types of tools or equipment found at construction sites. If an employer chooses to follow this table, he or she is not required to conduct exposure assessments.

The objective of this article is to discuss developing a worker exposure control plan that can help to meet industry compliance. The plan is required to consist of the following elements:

  • company name
  • the person completing the plan
  • tasks and activities that involve exposures to crystalline silica
  • engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection per identified task
  • housekeeping measures
  • how to restrict access to work areas
  • identification of the competent person

Employers should first create a list of activities that may generate silica exposure. This list should consist of the specific equipment used to determine the activities and the type of respiratory protection needed to protect employees from silica exposure.

Then, the standard permits construction employers to select from two methods of compliance to control exposures to respirable crystalline silica. This can be completed through one of two options, scheduled monitoring or performance.

Scheduled monitoring requires air monitoring at the beginning stage of the task. Depending on the results of this initial monitoring, an employer can anticipate the frequency of monitoring. If the initial monitoring indicates that employee exposures are below the action level of 25 Ug/m3 then no further monitoring is required. If the monitoring indicates at or above the action level but below the PEL of 50 ug/m3, the employer must repeat monitoring every six months.

If monitoring reveals employee exposures are above the PEL, the employer must repeat monitoring within three months of the most recent monitoring. When two, non-initial results are taken consecutively, at least seven days apart but within six months of each other, and both are below the action level, employers may stop monitoring.

If there are any changes in the work process, the employer must reassess exposures. The downside for most employers is that this option creates a heavy burden of monitoring. The second challenge of this option is attempting to sample the sporadic task within the time requirements of the standard.

The second option for an employer to use and assist with their non-Table 1 activity is the performance option. This option allows the employer to use any combination of air monitoring data or objective data sufficient to accurately characterize employee exposures to respirable crystalline silica. When an employer utilizes an objective data record, the record must include the following information:

  • the silica-containing material in question
  • the source of the objective data
  • the testing protocol and the result of testing
  • a description of the process, task, or activity
  • data relevant to the process, task, activity, material, or exposures
  • objective data should be available to employees

Once the employer has obtained objective data, then the program will describe respiratory protection used to limit employee exposure along with housekeeping procedures.

Under the standard, employers must not allow dry sweeping or dry brushing “where such activity could contribute to employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica unless wet sweeping, HEPA-filtered vacuuming or other methods that minimize the likelihood of exposure are not feasible.” In addition, employers must not allow compressed air to be used to clean clothing or surfaces where such activity could contribute to employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica unless: The compressed air is used in conjunction with a ventilation system that effectively captures the dust cloud created by the compressed air, or no alternative method is feasible.

The housekeeping requirements in the standard only apply where cleaning “could contribute to employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica.” Employers in limited situations where cleaning methods such as wet sweeping or HEPA-filtered vacuuming would not be effective or would create a hazard in the workplace are not required to use these cleaning methods. The example that OSHA shares in the small entity guide is using sweeping compound as a wet method practice.

The next required section will be procedures used to restrict access to the work areas from silica emissions/exposure generated by other employers or self-employed workers. Employers must restrict access when the non-Table 1 activity exposure assessment shows exposure levels are above the PEL or when following a Table 1 activity where respirators are required. OSHA recommends scheduling certain tasks when others are not around, telling employees avoid areas where dust is generated.

The last section of the plan must designate a competent person to frequently and regularly inspect job sites, materials, and equipment to implement the written exposure control plan. The employer must ensure this person has the knowledge to identify existing and foreseeable respirable crystalline silica hazards, and the person must have the authorization to promptly eliminate or minimize the hazards.

Once the plan is finalized, the employer must allow employees to view or copy the plan. The standard requires employers to review and evaluate the effectiveness of the written exposure control plan at least once a year and update as necessary.

If you are a construction employer attempting to figure out how you are going to protect employees, schedule sampling, assess task, or pay for the sampling of non-table 1 activities, the CEA Objective Data Program could be the easy button to assist you.

The Construction Employers Association “CEA” has partnered with SGS Galson, a certified laboratory, to develop an objective database. The two main goals of the program are to protect workers in industry and to assist contractors with compliance. The CEA/SGS’s program provides employers the opportunity to lease equipment or view objective data to assist in the development of the worker exposure plan. The program has been active for the last two years, and the database has hundreds of silica assessments that are available through subscriptions. To ensure confidence of the data submitted into the program, a third party audits the data. The database consists of personal samples and area/perimeter samples to assist in setting up the restricted areas. Currently, CEA’s database has had samples submitted of the following materials: asphalt, block, brick, concrete, cement, grout, mortar, soil, naturally occurring rock, drywall and fireproofing. If you are interested in learning more about the program, please visit

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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