Crystalline silica, also referred to as quartz, is a common mineral found in all naturally occurring and man-made materials, such as sand, concrete, block, brick, and natural stone and mortar. When workers cut, drill, crush, or grind these types of materials on construction jobsites, it creates a lot of dust, which contains very tiny crystalline silica particles. These tiny particles can then travel deep into workers’ lungs and cause serious health problems, including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, and more. In most circumstances, these diseases occur after years of exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
Given that crystalline silica is about as old as the planet itself, it should come as no surprise that our knowledge of the effects of breathing respirable crystalline silica is equally as ancient. Take the ancient Greeks, for example, who created the first known respirator out of a pig’s bladder to combat the hazards of breathing the dust produced in their mines and quarries. Unfortunately, this knowledge hasn’t equated to a lack of exposure. Approximately 2.3 million construction workers are still exposed to respirable crystalline silica in over 600,000 workplaces through high-energy operations like cutting, sawing, grinding, or abrasive blasting.
To combat this alarming statistic, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) has issued two standards and a state emphasis program, launched outreach efforts, and plans to conduct inspections at jobsites where workers are most likely to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica. In this editorial, we’ll be reviewing these agency measures in greater detail. For more information regarding how to limit occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica on your jobsite or better comply with MIOSHA guides, contact a Michigan OSHA lawyer today.
Part 590 Silica in General Industry & Part 690 Silica in Construction
In 2017, MIOSHA issued two key standards related to respirable crystalline silica: Part 590 Silica in General Industry and Part 690 Silica in Construction. Both of these standards reduced the amount of respirable crystalline silica which could be in the air workers breathe and required employers to take immediate action in order to protect their employees from respirable crystalline exposures in the workplace. Section 1910.1053(c) Permissible exposure limit (PEL), for example, requires the employer to ensure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of respirable crystalline silica in excess of 50 μg/m3. In order to prevent this from occurring, the employer is thus required to assess the exposure of any employee who is or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica at or above the action level. Other requirements include demarcating regulated areas from the rest of the workplace, providing each employee with an appropriate respirator, and establishing and implementing a written exposure control plan. If your company received a violation or monetary penalty for failing to comply with these requirements, get in touch with a Michigan OSHA attorney as soon as possible.
Agency Instruction MIOSHA-COM-20-5 Silica – State Emphasis Program
To further protect workers in Michigan, MIOSHA proceeded to issue Agency Instruction MIOSHA-COM-20-5 Silica – State Emphasis Program. The purpose of this instruction was to establish a state emphasis program that reduces employee exposures to respirable crystalline silica, raises awareness of the hazards associated with respirable crystalline silica, and prevents silicosis. The instruction applied to a number of key industries, including construction, foundries, concrete manufacturing, and more. Further, this agency instruction also adopted the OSHA National Emphasis Program (NEP) and enforcement directive for respirable crystalline silica with slight modifications. In particular, the targeting system was adapted to the type of silica-generating industries and the type of industries that cause confirmed cases of silicosis found in Michigan.
Enforcement Activities Under State Emphasis Program
Perhaps the most important aspect of the State Emphasis Program is MIOSHA’s plan to conduct 88 inspections during the 12-month period after the enforcement delay expires, as feasible with business shutdowns, inspection resource limitations, and other impediments that arise as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This goal is directly based on the OSHA NEP requirement that each of its regions target respirable crystalline silica in at least two percent of its inspections each year. Two percent of the 4,396 inspections conducted by MIOSHA in fiscal year 2019 equates to 88 inspections.
To better focus their resources, a list of workplaces most likely to have employees exposed to respirable crystalline silica has been created. Any establishments on this list should expect to receive an enforcement investigation that is unannounced, conducted by MIOSHA’s enforcement divisions, and designed to ensure compliance with Occupational Health Standard Part 690, Silica in Construction. Should the investigation reveal conditions that are not in compliance with MIOSHA regulations, citations and monetary penalties will follow. If you believe your establishment may appear on this list and soon receive an enforcement investigation, don’t wait until it’s too late to reach out to an OSHA lawyer with Cotney Construction Law.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.