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OSHA’s new Silica rule

by Colleen Suo

During the 2016 AGC NYS Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY Dec. 6-8, there were dozens of break out sessions and certification training courses anchored by the Opening General Session and Trade Show on Wed., Dec. 7. One of the Tuesday sessions addressed OSHA’s new silica rule.

Instructors Dr. David Duford an Industrial Hygienist and owner of Can Am Environmental Safety, Inc. and Peter DeLucia, HR and Safety Manager, AAC Contracting, Inc. presented the rule in terms that were helpful. Their goal was for contractors and laborers to understand the nuances of this rule a little better.

Jim Redmond, the director of Safety and Health  Services for the AGC of New York State, joined them in answering questions and although he was not officially on the docket his insight and hands-on knowledge regarding actual applications of the rule were a welcomed addition.

Although many aspects of the rule were covered in the two hour session, I’m going to focus on conforming to the guidelines in OSHA’s Table 1, as all three gentlemen reiterated that if contractors follow the engineering controls as listed on Table 1, they will be in compliance and will not have to engage in monitoring silica levels.

Duford and DeLucia explained that the OSHA ruling applies to ALL occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica above 25 micrograms per cubic meter (airborne action level or AL) during an eight hour time weighted average (TWA). The PEL (permissible exposure level) is 50 micrograms per cubic meter (TWA) — which means (according to OSHA), that if your crew is working in or near an area where silica dust is being generated, even if your workers are not the source — you will need to comply with the standards and utilize engineering and work practice control methods and implement the required respiratory protection with minimum APF. The complete rule (Crystialline Respirable Silica 29 CFR 1926.1153) and an overview may be found online at: .

As evidenced by the numerous questions throughout the session there is some confusion in the GC and construction world concerning what is expected and when for controlling respirable silica dust on the job site.

Although the rule was enacted on June 23, 2016 — it will not be enforced for the construction industry until June 23, 2017 giving employers and contractors time to prepare and get educated on how to be able to comply.

Dr. Duford defined respirable dust as being micrometer-sized particles that can be inhaled and become imbedded deep in the lungs. Once imbedded, the jagged particles continue to aggravate the tissue by cutting and slicing, which creates scar tissue in the lung. He stated that silica has been known to be dangerous for at least 2500 years. Hippocrates wrote about it making it one of the oldest industrial diseases known to man.

Total dust was explained to be particulates that can be filtered out through the nose or other filters. OSHA’s PEL for total dust is 15 milligrams per cubic meter over an eight hour TWA. As mentioned earlier, the PEL for respirable silica dust is 50 micrograms per cubic meter for eight hour TWA — a microgram is 1000 times smaller than a milligram.

In order to assist companies to navigate and comply with the ruling, OSHA has provided Table 1 within the new standard. Table 1 outlines “specified exposure control methods when working with materials containing crystalline silica.”

Listed within the table are eighteen common construction tasks along with dust control methods known to be effective so that employers know exactly what control methods are acceptable to OSHA in limiting worker exposure to silica. According to Duford and DeLucia, employers who follow Table 1 correctly are not required to measure workers’ exposure using mechanical means (air monitoring).

During an animated question and answer period, the bottom line we were encouraged to understand is that it is no longer good enough to just provide respirators to workers engaged within the general work zone without knowing (and using) the acceptable control methods.

One of the questions raised came from a general contractor in the audience, “One of our common tasks in bridge is completely cosmetic but the DOT requires — is to knock down the seams on a form line.” He went on to say, “So you take either a corded or cordless handheld grinder with a diamond wheel and you hold it at an angle so that it isn’t flush necessarily and you knock the seam down quickly — it makes a ton of dust and we put our guys in respirators anyway. So what is the engineering control to stop that?”

According to DeLucia, the answer to that and other questions always brings us back to Table 1 — you have to use the engineering controls — wet methods or supply ventilation. Something has to be employed to reduce or capture the dust that’s being created “in accordance with the engineering and work practice controls (on Table 1). If they (OSHA) come and your creating a ton of dust and your guys are in respirators — but no engineering controls (are being used) as listed in Table 1 — you’re going to get cited.”

Jim Redmond interjected at this point, “The intent is if you work within Table 1 — you’re in compliance — if you can’t do that, then your going to have to implement whatever controls you can. You’ll need to do the sampling so then you know what level of protection when you get into respirators, whether it’s a half (face), full or whatever.”

Another contractor jumped in, “If you do, say the hand held grinder task (No. 11 on the table), but you always provide your employee a respirator, does that alleviate you from having to do any air monitoring or any other air monitoring controls?”

This task (No. 11 on the table) is for handheld grinders for mortar removal (ie: tuck pointing). The engineering and work practice controls listed on the table include using a grinder equipped with commercially available shroud and dust collection system, operating and maintaining the tool in accordance to the manufacturers instructions. If using the dust collection system, it must provide 25-cubic-feet per minute or greater of airflow per inch of wheel diameter and a filter with 99 percent or greater efficiency and a cyclonic pre-separator or filter cleaning mechanism. These controls are used in conjunction with appropriate PPE as listed on Table 1.

Another GC from the back of the room stated, “You can’t run over to your truck, grab your 4-inch grinder any more and go over and grind for 20 minutes — that’s out. Every grinder we’ve got” has to be retrofitted or get new tools (wet methods or vacuum pulls) for every task to be compliant. “And while we’re doing that, if its less than four hours you might be fine, but if you’re doing that full time — probably also we’re going to have to augment with respirators.”

DeLucia answered, “In OSHAs hierarchy of controls — engineering and work practice controls are always first — PPE comes last, (they are very specific in the standard) you cannot jump to PPE first — you HAVE to implement engineering controls first. If you’re not employing engineering controls (just wearing respirators) and they come and they sample and you’re over the PL — you’re in violation.”

He then went on to explain that the next task on the table was for handheld grinders for uses other than mortar removal. According to Table 1, in that case, you are required to use the grinder with integrated water delivery system that continually feeds water to the grinding surface OR use a grinder equipped with a commercially available shroud and dust collection system (with the same requirements as previously listed) and operate and maintain the tool in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If         implementing these engineering and work practices, no PPE is required.

Another question came up about employee rotation as a form of engineering control, was this acceptable to OSHA? DeLucia responded by saying that the only OSHA standard that forbade employee rotation was in the asbestos standard.

Redmond went on to explain how this option could work. “So as listed in Table 1, if your crew is tasked with using jackhammers or chipping tools, and the task is estimated to be an eight hour job, if you’re operating outdoors with a jackhammer equipped with a water delivery system that supplies a continuous stream or spray of water at the point of impact — you may rotate two or more workers so that no one operator is at that task for more than four hours without using respiratory protection with minimum assigned           protection factor (APF). But if that same job is indoors or in an enclosed area (even with the above mentioned control method) you are required to provide respiratory protection and APF even if the task is less than four hours.”

“But”, DeLucia was quick to ad that “you have to be careful there too, if you move on to do another task that’s on the table. You can’t just do a bunch of tasks for two hours at a time — there’s overlap.”

If combined tasks throughout the day add up to any total amount of time that would require respiratory protection, you need to be complying. In other words, you just can’t rotate employees from task to task without figuring the cumulative effect of the eight hour shift.

One of the last topics brought up concerned working with multiple contractors on one floor or area. Let’s say you’ve got one guy chipping concrete into the deck, maybe sheetrockers also — hanging board, who would be responsible for monitoring? Redmond         remarked that this should be no different than OSHA’s multi-employer policy, “If they (OSHA) come out and there’s a problem: whoever creates, whoever controls, whoever’s exposed and whoever’s correcting — so if you fall into one of those (categories), “you’re in”.

DeLucia agreed, “It’s going to be interesting how this plays out. There’s going to be a huge amount of coordination responsibility on the part of the GC in order to coordinate dusty activities during the normal workday when everyone’s there, like hanging HVAC and stuff like that. You’re going to want to limit that exposure to as few people as possible, otherwise you’ll have guys building ‘tents’ and enclosures all over in order to keep the dust from migrating.

Duford reiterated, “If you have a task within Table 1 their (OSHA) expectations are that you’re going to follow them — period — you’re committed.” If any time you’re not going to implement Table 1 fully, then you have to get into doing the air monitoring. Which       according to Duford and DeLucia can be involved and cumbersome to try on your own.

At this point the audience was admonished by a member to “alleviate the headaches, I can tell you from experience — get a good IH (Industrial Hygienist) — get into a good relationship with an IH and it’ll go so much smoother for you. From the consultation end of it, implementations, monitoring, when to monitor — when not to monitor, feasibility questions. It has been our biggest saving grace.”

Redmond agreed, “Again this is for operations outside of the Table 1. My comment on self-performing this stuff is — I’ve always been against that only because of conflict of interest — meaning do they (OSHA) raise questions about how you sampled. You know, did you put it on a guy for an hour and then throw it in the pickup truck for the rest of the day, that type of thing. Obviously that’s up to you, all I would say is if you do your own sampling you’ve got to make sure you understand all these (air monitoring) components, you understand the protocol and if you’re going to wind up doing your own sampling, I would say to start with a guy like Dave (DuFord) that can educate you, train you, get you up to speed on what you should be doing, how you should be doing it — all that stuff.”



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