June 23, 2018, has come and gone. Are you in compliance with OSHA’s new silica exposure rule?
NPCA Staff Report
There are many ways silica dust is created in a precast concrete plant, as well as numerous ways to mitigate the threat it poses to workers. With a 30-day grace period now concluded, manufacturers must ensure their workplace and safety procedures are in compliance with the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration’s new rule regarding silica exposure.
OSHA’s silica standard language
The new standard establishes an 8-hour, time-weighted average (TWA) permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m.) and an action level (AL) of 25 μg/m³. It also requires other employee protections, like performing exposure assessments, using exposure control methods, using respiratory protection, establishing regulated areas, developing and implementing a written exposure control plan, offering medical surveillance, developing hazard communication information and keeping silica-related records.
The standard applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica, except the following:
- Construction work
- Exposures that result from the processing of absorptive clays
- Agricultural operations
- Where the employer has objective data demonstrating that employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica will remain below 25 μg/m³ as an 8-hour TWA under any foreseeable conditions
An employer can claim exclusion from the standard if they can meet the following conditions:
- Demonstrate employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica associated with a particular product or material, or a specific process, task or activity.
- Demonstrate that employee exposure will remain below 25 μg/m³ as an 8-hour TWA under any foreseeable conditions.
- Reflect workplace conditions closely resembling, or with a higher exposure potential than the processes, types of material, control methods, work practices and environmental conditions in the employer’s current operations.
A look at the statistics regarding OSHA’s enforcement of the silica standard for construction may provide employers in the precast industry with some clues to OSHA’s future enforcement priorities under the new rule.
As of April 23, 2018, during the first six months of enforcement, both state and federal OSHA agencies issued 117 violations to construction employers. Approximately 80% of the 117 violations were categorized as serious, carrying a maximum penalty of $12,934 per violation.
The data also show that OSHA rarely cites violations of the silica standard by itself. Citations have usually been accompanied by violations of other regulations, further compounding employers’ potential liability in the event of an inspection.
Additional figures from OSHA’s first six months of enforcing the silica standard for the construction industry are as follows:
- 35 citations issued for failure to conduct an exposure assessment of worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica. This was the most commonly cited violation.
- 31 citations for failing to adhere to the list of equipment and tasks, along with OSHA’s required engineering and work-control methods and respiratory protection.
- 20 citations for lack of a written exposure control plan. OSHA did not provide a detailed description of which control plan elements were not in compliance, or whether employers simply lacked written plans altogether.
OSHA publishes inspection and citation guidelines
OSHA has posted some insightful information on inspection and citation guidance for OSHA inspectors addressing each part of the respirable crystalline silica rule. This information should be reviewed thoroughly to ensure all avenues of the silica rule have been addressed and to learn what the OSHA inspectors will be looking for if they show up at your plant. To view the full list of inspection and citation guidelines, visit osha.gov.
NPCA member resources
The National Precast Concrete Association has developed numerous helpful documents, videos, webinars and other educational tools that address OSHA’s respirable crystalline silica exposure rule to help ensure your plant is in compliance. In addition, NPCA and the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) produced a precast-specific silica exposure control manual that will help you meet OSHA’s compliance standards. Visit NPCA’s online shop for a digital copy. The manual is free for NPCA members.
If you have not investigated the rule and how it affects your plant, it is critical to do so before OSHA arrives at your door. For more NPCA safety resources, visit precast.org/safety.