Despite the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) attempts to enforce control measures related to worker exposure to respirable silica dust, construction professionals are still finding it difficult to protect themselves and bystanders from this dangerous substance.
However, since OSHA currently has no plans to amend the silica rule that was revised as recently as 2016 to lower the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3 ) during an eight-hour day, contractors must be extremely diligent in outfitting their workers with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and any other additional measures called for by OSHA to protect workers. Remember, if you have been issued an OSHA citation, our OSHA attorneys are standing by.
Facing the Challenge of Respirable Silica
A recent study conducted by researchers from the Department of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts Lowell determined that current OSHA standards aren’t capably protecting workers and bystanders from inhaling respirable silica during construction processes like chipping and crushing. Even with the implementation of OSHA’s latest dust control measures, researchers found that silica levels exceeded OSHA’s PEL. Some important takeaways from this study include:
- Breathing zone air samples were collected from 51 workers and 33 bystanders at a handful of construction sites throughout Massachusetts.
- At these project sites, demolition, chipping, and crushing activities were being performed as part of normal construction operations.
- The highest levels of exposure were traced back to workers who were engaged in chipping and crushing. They surpassed the PEL in as little as fifteen minutes despite wearing cartridge respirators. To a lesser but still significant degree, bystanders were exposed to increased levels of respirable silica throughout the demolition process.
- When using water spraying systems, exposure was diminished to a point below the PEL.
- Researchers suggested employing new respiratory protection measures to protect workers.
Reducing the Threat of Respirable Silica
While it seems that OSHA will need to return to the drawing board to figure out better protections against respirable silica for workers in the construction industry, contractors can still employ the following measures to help minimize the risk associated with this dangerous substance:
- Providing respirators to workers
- Using water and ventilation controls to reduce the amount of dust in the air
- Limiting access to areas with an increased chance of exposure
- Providing medical exams to workers
- Training workers on the dangers of silica
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.