THE OSHA SILICA DUST STANDARDS
UNDERSTANDING THIS DUSTY REGULATION
Read this article by Poul Lemasters, NCBVA Legal Counsel to make sure you know your options and the risks of doing nothing.
In case you haven’t heard - the OSHA Silica Standard went into effect in June of 2016, and all general industry business (like a vault company) have until June 2018 to be compliant.
There is typically an immediate concern and fear when anything starts off with, “OSHA has announced . . .” Employers specifically tend to worry about: how many work hours to understand new regulations; how much will this cost to implement; what kind of trouble can I face; and of course – how much if I have an incident. Well, OSHA has announced its final rule (general industry business have until June 2018 to be compliant).on respirable crystalline silica (aka silica dust standard) and it’s most likely going to affect you.
Listed below are 5 things you should probably know and understand so that you can properly implement procedures and comply – and thus avoid those penalties (which can be significant).
WHAT IS THE SILICA DUST STANDARD?
Crystalline silica is a common mineral (it is actually the second most common element on earth) and is found in many places such as: stone, soil, sand, granite, concrete, cement, brick, mortar – you guessed it a lot of what our profession works with every day. The issue is that when silica is in a dust form (think of drilling, cutting, sweeping, shoveling) the dust stays airborne and small amounts can enter your lungs. The silica dust can accumulate in the lungs and has been linked to: lung cancer, pulmonary disease, respiratory failure, and death – just to name a few.
Because of the severe potential risks, OSHA instituted a rule on respirable crystalline silica in an effort to protect all workers who may come into exposure. The standard defines the Action Level and the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL). These limits are measured in micrograms per cubic meter. The action level is now set at 25µg/m3 per an 8-hour day. This is the level where a business must start to take some steps including but not limited to monitoring.
The PEL is 50µg/m3 over an 8-hour day. The PEL is the permissible – or legal – limit of measurable silica dust. If you measure over the PEL, then you must take further steps including engineering controls; limiting access; and providing equipment, such as respirators. If you want something to compare this to, and understand why this is an issue, the new PEL is the first universal PEL for silica. Prior to this there were various silica standards for different industries and they ranged as high as 250µg/m3 per an 8-hour day.
WHO DOES THE SILICA DUST STANDARD APPLY?
There are several categories under the standard, but the two most common are construction and general industry. The question becomes where does my business fit? The construction compliance option is one of the easier ways to comply because OSHA set out approximately 18 silica-generating tasks (listed in OSHA Silica Standard as Table 1) and provided specific engineering controls to provide a safe work place. The tasks included in Table 1 include: masonry saws; power saws; drills; jackhammers; crushing machines; and heavy equipment. If your activity falls under one of these specific tasks, then you can simply follow the OSHA practice controls and you avoid any other air monitoring.
The problem is that the Table of tasks is for construction only and does not include many of the tasks that we see in day-to-day business. Therefore, you, in your world of manufacturing, fall under the wide and expansive category of - general industry. Under general industry, the employer must determine what and where potential exposure may occur. Then, the employer would need to conduct tests, including air-quality tests, to determine if there is a potential exposure to silica dust.
Again, the silica dust standard applies to any business that may generate silica dust. It is up to the employer to meet all requirements. As far as timing for the standard, keep in mind that the construction provision of the silica standard went into effect on September, 23, 2017. The general industry provisions will begin being enforced by OSHA on June 23, 2018.
CAN I GET OUT OF THE SILICA STANDARD?
Actually – Yes; well at least maybe. As stated above, if any task you perform is listed in Table 1, as a general construction activity, and you comply with the engineering and workplace standards listed by OSHA. There is also a way to avoid monitoring under the general industry standard.
There is an exception to the silica standard when an employer can show, through objective data, that the employee exposure to silica will remain below the 25µg/m3 per an 8-hour day under any foreseeable condition. There are two terms to understand in this exception. The first is objective data. Under this provision, objective data refers to air monitoring data from industry-wide surveys that are reflective of the same employer conditions, including work controls and practices. The other term is ‘foreseeable condition’. OSHA refers to foreseeable condition as any situation that can reasonably anticipated. The concern is not when engineering controls breakdown, but rather when all precautions are being used and followed.
Even if you can avoid the monitoring through the second exception, objective data, there is still most likely some initial documentation that must be gathered.
There are several areas to be aware of when it comes to the general compliance of the silica standard, including any testing.
HOW BAD IS THIS?
Potentially? This could be a bad issue for employers and employees alike. There are many in the legal world that are comparing the new silica issue to asbestos issue of the past. The reason for the comparison includes the nature of the claim. Asbestos, a natural silicate material, was used for years and was not measured. What was discovered was that asbestos became airborne and then infected the lungs of those working with or around the material. The latency period (the time between exposure to illness) for Asbestos based illness and disease can be as short as 5-10 years and go beyond 40 years. Silicosis and other illnesses linked to silica inhalation have a similar latency period.
According to the EPA, 27 million workers were exposed to asbestos and there have been over 200,000 deaths linked to direct exposure to asbestos. Compared to silica, there are 2 million employees exposed to silica each year, and of that number, OSHA estimates that 840,000 workers are exposed to levels above the recommended PEL. While the number of deaths linked to silica exposure are less than asbestos, there are estimated 20,000 deaths linked to silica inhalation.
The options are pretty simple. Do something or do nothing. The risk of doing nothing is a far greater risk than going down the path of preparing; protecting; and implementing a plan that will not only protect your employees, but your business as well.