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What We’re Learning About OSHA Enforcement of the Silica Rule in Construction

Federal enforcement of OSHA’s respirable crystalline silica standard for construction began more than a year ago in September of 2017. At a recent OSHA Alliance Program meeting in Washington, D.C. attended by members of the LHSFNA, OSHA staff presented information on the citations issued thus far for violations of the federal silica standard.

The top violations of the standard from October of 2017 through May of 2018 included the following:

  • 53 Exposure assessment citations [1926.1153(d)(2)(i)]
  • 51 Specified exposure control method citations [1926.1153(c)(1)]
  • 32 Written exposure control plan citations [1926.1153(g)(1)]
  • 12 Communication of silica hazards citations [1926.1153(i)(1)]
  • 9 Employee information and training citations [1926.1153(i)(2)(i)]

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“Understanding why citations are being written on construction jobsites can go a long way toward helping LIUNA signatory contractors learn from others in the industry,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “The heart of the silica standard is about protecting the long-term health of workers. Avoiding a violation is more than not paying a fine. It’s knowing that construction laborers and other working men and women on job sites across the U.S. aren’t being overexposed to a substance known to cause lung cancer, silicosis, COPD and other harmful respiratory conditions.”

Let’s take a look at what’s behind each of these common violations so LIUNA signatory contractors can ensure workers are being protected and that they won’t be cited in the future.

Exposure Assessment Violations [1926.1153(d)(2)(i)]
The employer shall assess the exposure of each employee who is or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica at or above the action level in accordance with either the performance option … or the scheduled monitoring option.

Employers using the performance option must be able to show they’ve made an exposure assessment and that the control method being using will not expose workers above the PEL. This citation could come from employers using dust-generating tools without a specified control method listed in Table 1. Employers using control methods not specified in Table 1 need to support that decision with a hazard assessment. If the employer is using dust controls, but cannot produce a hazard assessment showing that workers are exposed below the PEL, they may be still liable for a citation.

OSHA allows several different avenues for conducting hazard assessments. Prior or historical sampling data is seen as the most concrete. However, the silica standard also allows objective data, which includes information such as air monitoring data from industry-wide, academic or trade association surveys demonstrating employee exposure to respirable silica from a specific process, task or activity.

Specified Control Methods Citations [1926.1153(c)(1)]
For each employee engaged in a task identified on Table 1, the employer shall fully and properly implement the engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protection specified for the task on Table 1, unless the employer assesses and limits the exposure of the employee to respirable crystalline silica in accordance with paragraph (d) of this section.

This is the requirement that allows employers to use Table 1 without needing to conduct a hazard assessment. The caveat is that the employer must “fully and properly” comply with Table 1’s hazard control measures. The exposure assessment citations are most likely a result of employers using Table 1 without:

  • Proper engineering controls (e.g., a lack of integrated engineering controls)
  • Work practice controls (e.g., lack of compliance with tool manufacturer dust control and tool use specifications)
  • Compliance with Table 1’s respiratory protection measures (e.g., not using respirators after four hours for several tasks)

The take home message here is that contractors using Table 1 for compliance must be sure to implement all the requirements fully and properly. Contractors using Table 1 do not have to perform hazard assessments because it’s assumed that exposure will be below the PEL if Table 1 requirements are followed fully and properly. If you are performing a Table 1 task without implementing all the measures listed in Table 1, be prepared to support that decision with a hazard assessment.

Written Exposure Control Plan Citations [1926.1153(g)(1)]
The employer shall establish and implement a written exposure control plan …

With so many citations related to Table 1 compliance or hazard assessments, it’s not surprising that the third most cited area involves inadequate or absent written exposure control plans. The silica standard requires a site-specific plan, with a designated competent person who is qualified to implement the program.

While construction employers may largely follow Table 1, there is still a requirement to have a written exposure control plan on site and available for inspection by workers and by OSHA. If an employer is using an alternative exposure control method, they must include the hazard assessment in the exposure control plan. Written exposure control plans must include:

  • Silica-generating workplace tasks
  • Engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protection used to limit employee exposure to silica for each task
  • Housekeeping measures used to limit exposure to silica
  • Procedures used to restrict access to work areas to minimize the number of employees exposed to silica

Communication of Silica Hazards [1926.1153(i)(1)] & Employee Information and Training Citations [1926.1153(i)(2)(i)]

The employer shall include respirable crystalline silica in the program established to comply with the hazard communication standard …

The employer shall ensure that each employee covered by this section can demonstrate knowledge and understanding of at least the following: …

The two other most common citations are related to the employer providing workers with training on silica, exposure and health effects. Workers exposed to dust containing silica above the action level must receive training (in a language and vocabulary they can understand) on the health effects of silica exposure, the employer’s dust control program, medical surveillance program, the specific controls to protect them and housekeeping methods in use.

The LHSFNA is available to help LIUNA signatory contractors and affiliates protect workers and understand and comply with OSHA’s silica standard. This includes determining which exposure control methods are best for them. We can also help develop written exposure control plans and review policies, procedures and best practices. We are your worker protection and silica compliance resource.

[Walter Jones is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety & Health.]

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