Crystalline Silica – A Deadly Dust Found on All Construction Sites

Crystalline silica is a common component of materials used on construction sites daily such as: sand, rock, stone, concrete, block, brick, and mortar. Exposure to crystalline silica dust can occur from everyday workplace operations like cutting sawing, drilling, and crushing of materials. The hazards of respirable crystalline silica have been known since the 1930’s, after an outbreak of worker deaths. The U.S. Department of Labor set standards to limit worker expose to this deadly dust in 1971, when OSHA was first created. However these standards and regulations are more than 40 years old and are based off of research done in the 1960’s. Recent scientific evidence shows that the current exposure limits do not adequately protect workers health. Furthermore exposure to respirable crystalline silica has been found to cause lung cancer and kidney disease at these current levels permitted. Read on to learn more about the steps OSHA is taking to implement these new regulations & standards, how this new rule will help protect workers, and what industries these new rules affect.

Over 2 Million Construction Workers Gain Valuable Protection

OSHA has finalized two new silica standards, one for Construction, and one for General Industry and Maritime. These new rules will help prevent cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease in workers by limiting exposure to crystalline silica. Every year more than 2 million construction workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica, OSHA estimates that more than 840,000 of these worker are exposed to levels of silica that exceed the new permissible limits. The new rules passed by OSHA are estimated to save the lives of more than 600 workers a year and help prevent more that 900 cases of silicosis each year, once the full effect of the rules are in place. These new rules and regulations will greatly reduce the amounts of silica dust that workers can be exposed to on the job. The rule provides flexibility, especially for small businesses, with staggered compliance dates to ensure sufficient time to meet requirements. For the most common tasks in construction, OSHA has laid out specific plans to help protect workers in “Table 1”. Employers can choose to follow the protection methods laid out in Table 1 or independently decide what dust controls to implement to limit exposures in their workplace. A Table 1 example about using a handheld grinder is below.

Work Practices and Controls All Employers Must Implement

  • Wet down and / or vacuum up silica dust to prevent workers from breathing it in
  • Required to limit access to high exposure areas
  • Provide training and respiratory protection
  • Provide written exposure control plans and measure exposures in some cases
  • Offer medical examinations to highly exposed workers

Dates When Employers Must Comply with New Standards

  • Construction –  June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date — except requirements for laboratory evaluation of exposure samples, which begin on June 23, 2018
  • General Industry and Maritime – June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date.
  • Hydraulic Fracturing – June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date for all provisions except Engineering Controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021.

Affected Industries

Construction • Glass manufacturing • Pottery products • Structural clay products • Concrete products • Foundries • Dental laboratories • Paintings and coatings • Jewelry production • Refractory products • Ready-mix concrete • Cut stone and stone products • Abrasive blasting in maritime, construction, and general industry • Refractory furnace installation and repair • Railroad transportation • Oil and gas operations.