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Phyllis Harden

Legislative & Special Projects, Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel
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Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction

On March 25, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued their final rule on respirable crystalline silica. The rule is comprised of two standards, one for the Construction Industry (§1926.1153) and one for General Industry and Maritime (§1910.1053). The construction industry standard applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica in construction work and sets a new Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (50.0 µg/m3) as an 8-hour Time-Weighted Average (TWA).  The standard also establishes an Action Level (AL) of 25 µg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA. The standard became effective on June 23, 2016. However, the construction industry has been provided one year – until June 23, 2017 – to comply with all provisions except for the requirements for methods of sample analysis. The following resources provide a wealth of information on the new rule.

Overview of the Rule

Silica Construction Standard Summary. AGC's summary outlines the major provisions of the regulation for the construction industry, including specified and alternative exposure control methods, respiratory protection, housekeeping practices, written exposure control plan, medical surveillance, employee hazard communication and training, and recordkeeping. Please refer to the complete final rule and the construction-only regulation for more information. 

Applying the Rule

The first step for an employer is to determine if the standard applies to its work. If its work is covered by the standard, an employer has two options for limiting employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica:

  • Specified exposure control methods; or

  • Alternative exposure control methods.

Employers who choose the specified exposure controls option must fully and properly implement protections for the tasks or equipment listed in Table 1 of the standard. Employers who fully and properly implement the controls in Table 1 do not have to assess employees’ silica exposure levels or comply with a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for those employees.

Employers who follow alternative exposure control methods must:

  • Determine the levels of respirable crystalline silica that employees are exposed to;

  • Limit employee exposures to a PEL of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 μg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA);

  • Use engineering and work practice controls, to the extent feasible, to limit employee exposures to the PEL, and supplement the controls with respiratory protection when necessary; and 

  • Keep records of employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

All employers covered by the standard must:

  • Provide respiratory protection when required;

  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose employees to respirable crystalline silica where feasible alternatives are available;

  • Establish and implement a written exposure control plan, including designating a competent person;

  • Offer medical exams to employees who will be required to wear a respirator under the standard for 30 or more days a year;

  • Communicate hazards and train employees; and

  • Keep records of medical examinations.

Below are several useful resources for applying the rule:

  • Silica Compliance Flowchart. AGC's respirable crystalline silica construction standard flowchart summarizes the compliance process and should be used in conjunction with the construction-only regulatory text. Follow the flowchart to maintain compliance with the new rule.

  • ​​Table 1: Specified Exposure Controls. The standard includes Table 1, which lists 18 common tasks using various types of tools or equipment found at construction sites. For each employee engaged in a task in Table 1, employers who choose to follow the Table for that task are required to fully and properly implement the engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection specified in Table 1. Employers who comply with Table 1 are not required to conduct exposure assessments or comply with a PEL for those employees. For more information on Table 1 requirements, refer to OSHA's Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction.

  • Written Exposure Control Plan. All employers covered by the standard, including employers who fully and properly implement the specified exposure controls in Table 1, must develop and implement a written exposure control plan (ECP). Written exposure control plans contain:

    • A description of the tasks that involve exposure to silica;

    • A description of the engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection used to limit exposure to silica for each identified task;

    • A description of the housekeeping measures used to limit exposure to silica; and

    • A description of the procedures used to restrict access to work areas (when necessary) to minimize the number of employees exposed to silica and their level of exposure – including silica dust generated by other contractors.

    • This section of the standard also requires the designation of a competent person to make frequent and regular inspections of the jobsite, materials, and equipment to implement the written ECP.

    • The ECP must be reviewed and evaluated annually and updated as necessary.

    • Finally, the ECP must be made available for examination and copying, upon request, to each employee covered by the standard, their representative, OSHA, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

    • AGC's sample template inlcudes the minimum information required by OSHA and additional information that may be helpful to employers. 

  • Appendix A: Methods of Sample Analysis. This appendix specifies the procedures for analyzing air samples for respirable crystalline silica, as well as the quality control procedures that employers must ensure that laboratories use when performing an analysis required under 29 CFR 1926.1153 (d)(2)(v). It is applicable to employers complying with the alternative exposure control methods.

    • Laboratory Analytical Methods and Sampling Procedures Referenced in Appendix A

    • Laboratory Accreditation and Compliance Standards Referenced in Appendix A

      • ANS/ISO/IEC Standard 17025:2005. This standard specifies the general requirements for the competence to carry out tests and/or calibrations, including sampling. It covers testing and calibration performed using standard methods, non-standard methods, and laboratory-developed methods.

      • ISO/IEC Standard 17011:2004. This standard specifies general requirements for accreditation bodies assessing and accrediting conformity assessment bodies (CABs). It is also appropriate as a requirements document for the peer evaluation process for mutual recognition arrangements between accreditation bodies.

    • Accredited and Compliant Laboratories 

      • AIHA Laboratory Database. AIHA Laboratory Accreditation Programs (AIHA-LAP, LLC) is a group of laboratory accreditation programs. AIHA-LAP, LLC is managed to conform to the requirements of the ISO/IEC 17011:2004. Laboratories seeking accreditation must conform to the requirements of the ISO/IEC Standard 17025:2005. 

    • Calculation of TWA Exposures. Employers complying with the alternative exposure control methods must make sure that their employees’ exposures to respirable crystalline silica do not exceed the PEL. This means that over the course of any 8-hour work shift, exposures can fluctuate, but the average exposure to respirable crystalline silica cannot exceed 50 μg/m3. The PEL applies to the three forms of respirable crystalline silica that are covered by the standard: quartz, cristobalite, and trydimite. Quartz is by far the most common form of crystalline silica found at construction workplaces, and in most cases, quartz will be the only form of respirable crystalline silica analyzed in air samples used to measure employee exposures.

    • Air Monitoring and Objective Data Collection Form. This form can be used to collect information on employee(s) exposure from one product or material or process, task, or activity. The information can be used for recordkeeping purposes and includes information requested in paragraphs (j)(1)(ii), air monitoring data, and (j)(2)(ii), objective data, of the construction standard.  

  • Appendix B: Medical Surveillance Guidelines. Employers must make an initial or periodic medical examination available to employees who will be required by the silica standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year. Appendix B provides medical information and recommendations to aid physicians and other licensed health care professionals (PLHCPs) regarding compliance with the medical surveillance provisions of the standard. It specifies which employees must be offered medical surveillance, when and how often the examinations must offered, and the tests that make up medical examinations. It also specifies the information that the employer must give to the physician or other licensed health care professional (PLHCP) who conducts the examinations and the information that the employer must ensure that the PLHCP provides to the employee and employer.

    • NIOSH B Reader List. Initial and periodic medical examinations must include a digital or film chest X-ray interpreted according to the International Labour Office (ILO) International Classification of Radiographs of Pneumoconioses by a NIOSH-certified B Reader (this involves a certified physician reading the X-ray according to certain procedures to determine if it shows signs of diseases such as silicosis). NIOSH maintains a database of physicians from inside, and outside, the United States who have demonstrated competence in applying the ILO classification by successfully completing the NIOSH B Reader examination within the last 4 years.

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