ARE YOU WORKING WITH DANGEROUS MATERIALS?
In an effort to protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS), OSHA is proposing two new safety standards. One safety standard is for general industry and maritime and the other is for construction. This post will look at the first safety standard. OSHA is building some flexibility into this proposal to let employers tailor solutions to the conditions in their specific workplaces.
What is Respirable Crystalline Silica?
RCS is made up of tiny particles that can be breathed into workers lungs, and possibly cause silicosis. Silicosis is an incurable, sometimes fatal lung disease. Exposure to RCS also increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer, debilitating respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and kidney disease.
RCS is released into the air when workers, generally construction workers, cut, grind, drill or crush materials that contain silica, such as concrete, rock, masonry, and tile. In general industry, about 320,000 workers are exposed to RCS through their working with brick, concrete, pottery manufacturing, and operations using sand products.
What Does the New Rule Require?
The new rule would limit workers’ exposure to RCS to a new permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The amount measured is averaged over an 8 hour day. The proposed rule will require employers to limit employee access to areas where silica exposures are high, take certain measures to reduce exposures, provide medical exams to workers with high silica exposures, and train employees about silica related hazards.
How Can You Lower Silica Exposure?
Silica exposure can generally be lowered using common dust control methods, such as wetting down work operations to keep dust out of the air, enclosing an operation (aka process isolation), or using a vacuum to collect dust where it is created.
What Should You Do?
The General Industry and Maritime OSHA provision includes the following actions that are to be performed by employers:
- Measure the amount of silica that workers are exposed to if it may be at or above an action level of 25 μg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), averaged over an 8-hour day;
- Protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposures above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 μg/m3, averaged over an 8-hour day;
- Limit workers’ access to areas where they could be exposed above the PEL;
- Use dust controls to protect workers from silica exposures above the PEL;
- Provide respirators to workers when dust controls cannot limit exposures to the PEL;
- Offer medical exams—including chest X-rays and lung function tests—every three years for workers exposed above the PEL for 30 or more days per year;
- Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure; and
- Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.
By performing the above actions, you will not only be protecting the lives of your employees, but will also remain in compliance with proposed OSHA requirements.
How Can We Help?
One of the roofing contractors we use provides certified OSHA safety training seminars to anyone who wishes to attend. To inquire about registration and attendance, contact Mike Baird at Insulated Roofing Contractors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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