The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began enforcing the respirable crystalline silica standard on September 23, 2017. However, for the first 30 days, the Agency offered compliance assistance in lieu of enforcement for those employers that were making good-faith efforts to comply with the new construction standard.
Effective October 23, 2017, OSHA began fully enforcing all appropriate provisions of the silica rule for construction. The Agency issued interim guidance for its compliance staff that highlights the requirements and provides guidance on how to effectively enforce employers. The silica rule established an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), an action level (AL) of 25 µg/m3, as well as other requirements.
Employers subject to the construction rule may comply in one of two ways. First, for certain listed tasks involving materials containing crystalline silica, you can comply by fully and properly implementing required engineering and work practice controls and respiratory protection as prescribed by Table 1 of the rule. Therefore, you may be able to fully comply with the rule by implementing dust control measures, such as water dust suppression or vacuum dust collection meeting the particular requirements for the activity.
Second, with the alternative, you can comply by completing “exposure assessments,” of workers above the action level of 25 µg/m3.
If you choose the “exposure assessment” option, you can meet your obligations by:
- Using air monitoring data or objective data to characterize and monitor worker exposures to ensure compliance; or
- Adopting a scheduled monitoring procedure to identify and periodically evaluate the exposure of workers who could be above the action limit of 25 µg/m3 when measured as an 8-hour TWA.
Based on the results of the exposure assessments, you must implement engineering and work practice controls to limit exposures to or below the PEL, where feasible. If attaining worker exposure levels below the PEL is not feasible, you must implement controls to reduce silica dust to the lowest feasible level and provide workers with respirators that comply with the respiratory protection requirements.
There are additional requirements. You must also:
- Make medical screening available to workers who are required to use a respirator more than 30 days per year;
- Develop a written exposure control plan (ECP);
- Maintain certain records; and
- Comply with certain limitations on housekeeping practices, such as using wet sweeping, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-filtered vacuuming, or other methods designed to reduce worker exposure when feasible.
The interim guidance outlines how compliance officers will enforce both methods of compliance. They will:
- Collect personal breathing zone samples when controls for tasks listed in Table 1 are not being fully and properly implemented or when alternative exposure control methods are not being properly implemented;
- Review the employer’s written silica ECP and other relevant programs (respiratory protection program and hazard communication program). If you conducted an exposure assessment, those records will also be reviewed;
- Interview affected workers, including the competent person, as part of the overall assessment of your implementation of its ECP; and
- Review housekeeping methods—use of sweeping compounds (e.g., nongrit, oil- or waxed-based) is allowed.
Do not bury your head in the sand! Start evaluating your workers’ exposure and planning for the best method of compliance for your site.