Silica: Are You Managing Exposure?

Crystalline silica is one of the most abundant minerals on Earth. It is a basic component of sand, stone, rock, concrete, cement, brick, mortar, asphalt, and many other materials. To better protect workers from the dangers of crystalline silica, OSHA has finalized two new silica standards: one for construction and the other for general industry and maritime. OSHA estimates that these new standards will affect nearly 2.3 million workers at more than 675,000 workplaces. OSHA’s new silica standard for the construction industry took effect in September 2017, and compliance is required in the general and maritime industries by June 2018. KCI’s team of industrial hygienists and compliance managers have been tracking the progress of these regulations since their inception in 2013 and can assist you in understanding and complying with these new standards.

Industries affected by the new OSHA regulations include, but are not limited to:

Industries involved in:

  • Construction
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Dry bulk cargo handling
  • Railroad operations
  • Dental laboratories
  • Oil and gas operations
Manufacturers of:

  • Ready-mix concrete products
  • Asphalt roofing products
  • Cut stone and stone products
  • Glass, pottery, and jewelry
  • Paints and coatings
  • Refractory product

The health hazards associated with silica come from breathing very small “respirable” crystalline silica dust. Workplace exposures to crystalline silica dust occur during operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling, crushing or otherwise disturbing silica-containing products (common construction tasks), and operations involving the manufacturing or use of silica-containing products (ready-mix concrete, asphalt roofing products, stone products, hydraulic fracturing, etc.)

Exposure to respirable silica dust can cause debilitating and deadly diseases including silicosis, lung cancer, COPD, emphysema, bronchitis, and kidney disease. Each year, hundreds of workers die from illnesses caused by breathing in silica, and thousands more become ill. OSHA estimates that over 840,000 construction workers and 100,000 in general industry / maritime workers are exposed to silica concentrations in excess of the new permissible exposure limit (PEL). It is estimated that OSHA’s new standard will save the lives of more than 600 workers each year by significantly reducing the amount of silica dust they are exposed to on the job.

WorkersTo meet OSHA’s new requirements, companies must:

  • Conduct exposure assessments to determine the amount of silica to which workers may be exposed (not required in all cases);
  • Create a written Exposure Control Plan that identifies tasks causing silica exposure, and the engineering controls and work practices that will reduce workers’ exposure;
  • Designate a competent person to implement the written Exposure Control Plan – Construction industry only;
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose employees to silica dust;
  • Provide respiratory protection to workers when engineering controls/work practices are insufficient to protect them from silica exposure;
  • Offer medical monitoring to employees exposed above the PEL or required to wear respirators more than 30 days per year;
  • Provide training to inform employees of the risks associated with silica exposure and the items addressed above; and
  • Keep records demonstrating compliance with the standard.

A careful analysis of existing activities and work practices is critical to understanding how the new standards will affect an organization’s operations and how best to achieve compliance. After a thorough review, our scientists work with clients to choose the best alternatives for meeting the new standard and, when needed, develop a scope of work for employee exposure assessments. Once the exposure assessment is completed (if needed), we generally recommend creating a comprehensive silica exposure program manual that addresses all of OSHA’s requirements in a single document. This single document includes provisions for addressing all of the administrative requirements (e.g. roles and responsibilities, exposure assessment protocols, respiratory protection, medical monitoring, training, and record keeping). In addition, single page Exposure Control Plans are developed for each silica-related activity. Each plan explains the engineering controls, work practices, housekeeping requirements, and respiratory protection required for each activity. One-page plans are prepared in a concise manner that makes it easier for field personnel to follow.

Other silica-related services KCI offers include:

  • Developing appropriate engineering controls and work practices;
  • Providing-silica related training to management and workers;
  • Identifying appropriate tool retrofits; and
  • Developing a Respiratory Protection Program.

Our team has years of experience conducting exposure assessments and developing employee exposure plans across a wide range of industries and for varying types of contaminants. KCI is working with clients to help them minimize silica risk through careful planning and analysis. This includes development of a silica exposure control program for a state department of transportation; baseline assistance in identifying groups and activities that could lead to silica exposure at port facilities, construction companies and cement-manufacturing plant; and completion of initial exposure assessment for a coal handling facility.