By Evan Gurley
Forterra Building Products in Irving, Texas, is one of many precasters that has taken proactive steps to be prepared for the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration silica exposure rule that took effect June 23, 2016. The rule reduces permissible exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift, and requires employers to use engineering controls to limit worker exposure.
Andre Deveau, environmental safety and health director, said Forterra already performs industrial hygiene monitoring, and he has familiarity with the new OSHA requirements since they are similar to existing Canadian standards. Deveau mentioned the main issue he foresees at Forterra will be sanding and grinding pipe for rework, which is typically done outdoors or in well-ventilated areas. In some facilities where this is not feasible, the company will plan to require the use of respirators in the short term and will work to implement better ventilation systems in the future.
While some precasters like Forterra are prepared, now is an ideal time for those not aware of regulation changes to start thinking about how to prepare for the potential impact this new rule will have in your precast concrete plant.
What to know about the rule change
The rule is comprised of two standards, one for construction and one for general industry and maritime. Precast concrete manufacturing falls under the general industry standard, 29 CFR 1910.1000. Any modifications to precast products in the field that involve coring, chipping, cutting, drilling or grinding that creates respirable-size crystalline silica particles falls under 29 CFR 1926.55(a). According to OSHA, key provisions of the updated regulation include:
- Reducing the PEL for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift. This cuts worker exposure in half in general industry and by five times in the construction field.
- Requiring employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure or provide respirators when engineering controls cannot limit exposure.
- Limiting worker access to high-exposure areas, developing a written exposure control plan and training workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
- Providing medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and access to information about their lung health.
- Providing flexibility to help employers protect workers from silica exposure.
According to OSHA, both standards contained in the final rule took effect on June 23, 2016. Industries have 1-to-5 years to comply with most requirements, based on the following schedule:
- Construction – June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date.
- 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.
- OSHA-approved State Plans have six months from March 24, 2016, to implement standards that are at least as stringent as the new federal requirements.
How to address the new PEL rule
OSHA has produced documents with recommendations on how to address the new exposure limits. Some recommendations include the use of vacuums, masks and wet cutting methods. Using equipment with an attached vacuum system will significantly lower the amount of concrete dust escaping into the air. Wearing properly fitted masks designed to block refined particles is beneficial as well. In addition, the most effective method is to apply water to every cut or grind to subdue the concrete dust limit. Other recommendations made by OSHA include:
- Wearing disposable or washable work clothes. Showering if facilities are available. Workers should vacuum dust from clothes or change into clean clothing before leaving the work site.
- Participating in training, exposure monitoring, health screening and surveillance programs.
- Being aware of operations and job tasks that create crystalline silica exposure in the workplace and knowing how to protect yourself and workers
- Refraining from eating, drinking and smoking in any areas where crystalline silica dust is present.
Education keeps workers safe
Norwalk Concrete Industries is another precaster that has already started changing its silica exposure policy. Jason Cross, quality control manager and safety director, said its workers at highest risk of exposure have gone through the medical exam and respirator fit test. In addition, grinding or dry cutting concrete has been banned at the plant. Cross said education is the best way to implement industry changes.
“Workers in our industry are going to do what they need to do to get the job done, which is great. However, sometimes that mindset will cause them to overlook things,” he said. “I have information hanging on our safety bulletin board and I do toolbox talks. It’s part of our new employee training. The more they know about the dangers, the better the chance they will do what’s right.”
For more information about the OSHA silica regulation and how to prepare, please visit precast.org and read the latest NPCA Safety, Health and Environmental Committee’s bi-monthly silica exposure training program (precast.org/silica-training) or visit OSHA’s website at osha.gov.
Evan Gurley is a technical services engineer with NPCA.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, osha.gov/silica