Understanding OSHA’s Latest Silica Dust Regulations
If you work in the construction or manufacturing industries,you should be well aware of the dangers of silica dust, commonly found in plaster,drywall, heavy equipment, and other construction zones. Inhaling the dust canlead to a range of respiratory problems, including shortness of breath, chestpains, difficulty breathing, silicosis, and even lung cancer.
OSHA has set strict requirements for businesses that subjectworkers to these kinds of conditions. As an employer, it’s your job to makesure you monitor your workspace for silica dust and provide your employees withproper respiratory protection, so they can breathe easily. Use our guide tolearn more about OSHA’s latest silica dust regulations, so you can keep youremployees safe on the job.
OSHA Silica DustRegulations for Employers
In March 2016, OSHA issued a FINAL RULE to protect Americanworkers, limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
Final Rule’s Key Provisions:
Sets a new PEL (permissible exposure limit) forrespirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over an8-hour shift, which is around half the previous PEL.
Requires employers to use engineering controls(such as water spray systems or ventilation) to limit workers exposure to thePEL; provide respirators when engineering controls are not able to eliminateexposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposurecontrol plan; and train workers on silica risks and on the ways to limit exposure.
Employers must support and provide the means forpotentially highly exposed workers to obtain medical exams to monitor theirhealth in relation to the exposure.
Understanding theFull Scope of Exposure
While the Final Rule sets a new permissible exposure limit,you need to monitor your workspace to make sure your business complies withthese new regulations. First, you must monitor the work environment over thecourse of an 8-hour window, the typical length of a work shift, using "personalbreathing zone air samples that reflect the exposures of employees on eachshift, for each job classification, in each work area." To make sure thelevel of silica dust isn’t changing over time, you need to test your workspaceagain every three to six months.
But the samples you use may not be accurate in terms of whatyour employees are exposed to on a daily basis. That’s why it’s best to usepersonal sampling pumps that are fitted to each employee, so your samples areas accurate as possible. If you’re not familiar with this process, you shouldconsider hiring a professional industrial hygienist to collect and analyze thesamples for you, so you’re not putting your employees at risk.
3M Reusable Respirator Trade-In Program
3M offers a program where you can get free 3M reusable respirator facepieces in exchange for competitive facepieces and your purchase of 3M cartridges and/or filters. It's ideal for folks who frequently use filters and cartridges and want to switch products without investing in new facepieces. Learn more here.
Respirators May NotBe Enough
Some employers think that simply handing a respirator orbreathing mask to their staff is enough respiratory protection from silicadust, but this isn’t always the case. Your employees come in many shapes andsizes, so you need to make sure all your respirators have been properly fittedto each employee. Women may be at risk if they wear a respirator that’sdesigned for a man. Men with facial hair may also be at risk if their haircreates an opening for the silica dust to slip inside.
You should also invest in high-quality respirators that keepyour employees comfortable. Some masks may irritate your employees after a longshift. If these masks are uncomfortable, your employees will be less likely towear them. Look for lightweight, compact respirators that don’t distract fromthe task at hand.
In addition to properly fitting your respirators to youremployees, you also need to maintain this equipment over time. Make sure theHEPA filter is unclogged. Have your employees keep their respirators in asecure location when they’re not in use.
To ensure your business complies with OSHA’s new silica dustregulations, provide fitted respirators to all your employees, take accuratereadings of your workspace, and monitor for silica dust on a regular basis.When in doubt, hire a professional industrial hygienist that can help youaccurately monitor your work area.
You can find dozens of quality respirators and filters at PKSafety. Contact us today to findthe right respiratory protection for your team.