OSHA Begins Enforcement of the Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction: What will they be looking for?

By Renee Witherspoon, CSP, CIH, CHMM, South Plains Chapter, Past President (2012-2015)

Silica exposure during concrete block cutting/splitting (credit: OSHA)

As of September 23, 2017 OSHA began enforcement of its new Crystalline Silica standard (29 CFR 1926.1153) for Construction establishing an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3, an action level (AL) of 25 µg/m3, as well as other requirements.

During the first 30 days of enforcement, OSHA will continue to evaluate good faith efforts taken by employers to meet this new standard. According to a September 20 memorandum from Thomas Galassi, Acting Deputy Assistance Secretary for OSHA, they will provide “compliance assistance and outreach to assure that covered employers are fully and properly complying with its requirements.” In the memo he says that OSHA will focus on assisting employers in implementing the controls described in Table 1. If an employer is not making any efforts to comply, the OSHA compliance officer will conduct air monitoring and the employer may receive a citation. If a citation is proposed within this first 30 days, it will be required to be reviewed by the national office.

This memo also states that OSHA is in the process of developing interim inspection and citation guidance but as of September 26, the local Lubbock Area Office has not received this interim guidance on enforcement.  With use of phrases like “fully and properly” in this September 20 memo, it does provide some guidance on what OSHA will be looking for when doing a compliance investigation.

According to the Small Entity Compliance Guide for Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction (OSHA 39-2-07R, 2017), when OSHA talks about “fully and properly” when referencing this standard, they mean – all dust controls are in place, all equipment is properly operated and maintained in accordance to manufacturers specifications, the ancillary requirements are met and importantly, employees are trained and have access to the standard and employer control measures.

Although there is no interim guidance document available at the time, we as health and safety professionals can anticipate some of the items OSHA will be looking for during an inspection.  Here’s my list:

  1. General observations:
    1. The presence of large amounts of visible dust, or a noticeable increase in dust generation during the task is a sign that the dust controls are not operating correctly. This will generate additional questions and may cause the compliance officer to go into more detail during the investigation.  Maintaining good housekeeping practices is always a top recommendation.
    2. Use of dry brushing or sweeping or use of compressed air. Dry brush and sweeping is not allowed for cleaning of silica-containing dusts, unless other methods are not feasible. Compressed air can be used, as an example to clean holes, but only if it is used in conjunction with a HEPA-filtered vacuum to capture the dust.
  2. Correct selection of engineering and work practice controls. (30-day focus area).  Compliance officers will review each “Equipment/Task” on the construction site and ensure that the associated “Engineering and Work Practice Control Methods” have been implemented in accordance with Table 1, 1926.1153(c) Specified exposure control methods.
    1. Note: There are specific requirements for different types of equipment, expect a review of each type of equipment to ensure that the designated engineering and work practice control is used. If employers are not conducting tasks in Table 1 or do not implement engineering controls or work practice controls, a detailed review may be conducted of “alternative exposure control methods,” including personnel sampling showing that the PEL is not being exceeded, which is 50 µg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA and exposure assessment.
    2. Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America has an excellent resource with quick links and pictures at: https://www.lhsfna.org/index.cfm/controlling-silica-exposure/
  3. Proper operation and maintenance of tools for minimizing dust emissions. For safety and liability reasons, all tools and equipment should be used and maintained in accordance to manufacturers’ instructions, these include:
    1. Water flow rates with adequate supply,
    2. Spray nozzles, hoses and connections not damaged/clogged,
    3. Shrouds or cowlings intact and properly installed,
    4. Vacuum equipment air flow rate and capacity,
    5. Rotation of the blade (speed, direction),
    6. Maintaining and changing blades, and
    7. Frequency for changing water.
  4. Proper selection and use of respiratory protection with a minimum “assigned protection factor” (APF) in accordance with Table 1. This should include accurate calculation of total task duration for each task. More complex calculations may be required for employees that do more than one task.
    1. Compliance officers have considerable experience in inspection procedures for respiratory protection with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard 1910.134, if you have respirators expect questions on compliance with this standard.
    2. If employees are meeting the 30-day threshold with respirator usage, questions regarding medical surveillance will be asked.
  5. Working indoors or in enclosed spaces? Proper use of exhaust systems. A compliance officer may ask, “What is the employer doing to minimize the accumulation of visible airborne dust?”
  6. Dust collection systems with filters with a 99% or greater efficiency. Filters will be inspection to ensure they are cleaned or changed to prevent clogging, and equipment properly emptied.
  7. Written exposure control plan.  This is a requirement for all employers covered by the standard. OSHA is big on written programs, so this is a priority.  The plan describes workplace exposures and ways to reduce those exposures, such as engineering controls, work practices, housekeeping methods, and restricting access to areas where high exposures occur. This plan must be available to employees along with a copy of the OSHA standard, so make sure a copy is easily accessible on a job site.
    1. Check out: http://www.silica-safe.org/ for create-a-plan and sample plans in the Small Entity Compliance Guide previously referenced.
  8. Has a competent person been designated? This person must be able to:
    1. Identify existing and foreseeable respirable crystalline silica hazards;
    2. Have the authority to promptly eliminate or minimize silica hazards; and
    3. Have the knowledge and ability to implement the written exposure control plan.
    4. Note: Expect that this person will be asked about each of these items above, including any training that is specific to the work being done.  Don’t forget about hazard communication and location of Safety Data Sheets (SDS), that’s a fallback question on all OSHA inspections.
  1. Documentation of employee training about respirable crystalline silica hazard and the method the employer uses to limit their exposure.
    1. Health hazards associated with respirable crystalline silica exposure. For respirable crystalline silica, the health hazards include: cancer, lung effects, immune system effects, and kidney effects.
    2. Specific workplace tasks that could expose employees to respirable crystalline silica. Examples include those listed in Table 1, such as using a stationary masonry saw to cut crystalline silica-containing materials.
    3. Specific measures the employer is implementing to protect employees from respirable crystalline silica exposure, including engineering controls, work practices, and respirators to be used.
    4. The contents of the respirable crystalline silica standard. This would involve a description of the standard’s requirements.
    5. The identity of the competent person designated by the employer. This could be as simple as announcing who the competent person is at the beginning of a work shift.
    6. The purpose and a description of the medical surveillance program, if applicable.
  2. Documentation of recordkeeping. Employers must maintain and keep accurate records of air monitoring and objective data used to assess employee exposures to respirable crystalline silica and medical surveillance.  There are specific requirements for each to include:
    1. Air monitoring data:
      1. The date of the measurement for each sample taken;
      2. The task monitored;
      3. Sampling and analytical methods used;
      4. The number, duration, and results of samples taken;
      5. The identity of the laboratory that performed the analysis;
      6. The type of personal protective equipment used (e.g., type of respirators worn); and
      7. The name, social security number, and job classification of all employees represented by the monitoring, indicating which employees were actually monitored.
    2. Objective data:
      1. The crystalline silica-containing material in question;
      2. The source of the objective data;
      3. The testing protocol and results of testing;
      4. A description of the process, task, or activity on which the objective data were based; and
      5. Any other data relevant to the process, task, activity, material, or exposures on which the objective data are based.
    3. Medical surveillance data:
      1. Name and social security number;
      2. A copy of the Physician or other Licensed Health Care Professional (PLHCP) and/or specialists written opinions; and
      3. A copy of the information that the employer is required to provide to the PLHCPs and specialists
      4. Note: OSHA regulation (29 CFR 1910.1020, Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records) addresses additional requirements for maintaining exposure and medical records. In general, exposure records (including air monitoring and objective data) must be kept for at least 30 years, and medical records must be kept for at least the duration of employment plus 30 years.

Where to start? Here are 10 steps to help get employers into compliance with this new standard:

  1. Be knowledgeable. Read the standard and be familiar with the contents of Table 1.
  2. Ensure each piece of equipment or task has the appropriate work practice and engineering control methods implemented in accordance with Table 1.
  3. Complete exposure assessments if tasks are not in Table 1.
  4. Prepare or update written plans, i.e., exposure control plan for silica, respiratory protection, hazard communication, etc.
  5. Acquire the appropriate equipment, controls and respiratory protection.
  6. Arrange for medical surveillance, if applicable.
  7. Determine appropriate housekeeping methods.
  8. Designate and train your “competent person.”
  9. Schedule employee training.
  10. Establish a recordkeeping system.

Construction employers must comply with these key requirements of the standard by September 23, 2017. During the first 30 days of enforcement, employers should either “fully or properly” implement Table 1 requirements or implement “alternative exposure control measures.”  Although the interim inspection guidelines are not available for their compliance officers, construction employers should be familiar with the requirements of the standard, and should put forward a good faith effort to comply with all of the requirements for respiratory protection, housekeeping, medical surveillance, training (including hazard communication), and recordkeeping.

Reference: Small Entity Compliance Guide for Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction (OSHA 39-2-07R, 2017), accessed 9/26/17.