Contractors, Subs 60 Days Into New OSHA Silica Rule to Curb Silicosis, COPD

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By Kerry Smith, Editor – St. Louis Construction News & Review Magazine

The SITE Improvement Association’s safety committee continues to actively educate and assist contractors and subcontractors with measures to comply with OSHA’s heightened standard, which took effect June 23, requiring advanced efforts to protect construction workers from inhaling hazardous levels of silica.

Silica inhalation may occur when excavating a site or placing large quantities of rock in a trench, according to SITE Improvement Association Executive Director Terry Briggs. SITE is a St. Louis-based independent construction trade association. Briggs says the organization has been regularly teaming up with OSHA representatives to co-lead seminars that inform contractors of the nuances in complying with the agency’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard.

“Silica inhalation is a big issue in the construction industry,” Briggs said. “We’ve been actively hosting programs to educate our SITE members on this new OSHA safety standard. Since a great majority of our members work in various aspects of site work – including companies that perform concrete, asphalt, earth moving and other related work – this standard is a significant one for us.”

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in stone, artificial stone and sand, according to OSHA. When workers cut, grind or drill materials that contain this mineral, they can be exposed to very small silica dust particles known as “respirable” particles. The particles can travel deep into workers’ lungs and may cause silicosis, lung cancer chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.

Equipment operators, for example, are now required by OSHA to seal off the entire cab of their heavy equipment vehicle – such as a bulldozer or excavator – to prevent any silica particles from being inhaled during performance of work such as dropping rock or aggregate into a trench, Briggs said.

Any kind of masonry sawing is another example of a construction task that now requires additional silica precautions. The use of an integrated water delivery system that feeds water to the blade to minimize dust emissions is a new OSHA-mandated compliance measure. Using a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air)-filtered vacuum when cleaning drilled holes in concrete is another example where the new OSHA standard applies.

On August 22, OSHA released an FAQ with answers to questions arising in conjunction with the new rule. Contractors and subcontractors may access the FAQ at https://www.osha.gov/dsg/topics/silicacrystalline/construction_info_silica.html.

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