Action last month by OSHA indicates that silica has moved high on the agency’s regulatory agenda. OSHA requested a “quick turn-around” of the peer review of the draft silica standard’s health effects document, a request that will accelerate the adoption process. In addition, it issued Controlling Silica Exposures in Construction, a guidance document that mirrors the draft standard’s approach to hazard mitigation.

Construction Tasks or Tools
With Silica Exposure

  • Stationary masonry saws
  • Handheld masonry saws
  • Hand-operated grinders
  • Tuckpointing and mortar removal
  • Jackhammers (concrete breakers)
  • Rotary hammers & similar tools
  • Vehicle-mounted rock drilling rigs
  • Drywall finishing
  • General housekeeping and dust suppression

“After all the years of misdirection at OSHA, we welcome these signs of renewed focus on protecting Laborers,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “Now, we expect adoption and implementation of an effective silica standard within two years.”

As far back as the Franklin Roosevelt Administration, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins launched educational efforts to limit worker exposure to silica, but the government never regulated the hazard. It took a tentative step in 1996, establishing a special emphasis program to encourage compliance with the agency’s permissible exposure limit (PEL). Yet, independent studies indicate that the silica PEL is too permissive and unsafe.

In 2003, the agency finally got started on a draft standard. However, after the draft was favorably reviewed by OSHA’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH), it came under fire from the Small Business Administration and the process stalled. With the agency now requesting an expedited peer review, expectations for a successful completion of the adoption process are on the rise.

If the essence of the draft standard is retained in the final rule, controls and respirator usage for most silica dust producing operations will be specified by construction task. By allowing protection on a task basis, the standard reduces the need for air monitoring and simplifies protection and enforcement programs. OSHA’s new publication – available free online – employs this approach by providing detailed guidance on control options for the most common sources of silica exposure in construction.

“For Laborers, the most basic rule is always wet cut where feasible,” says LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott Schneider. “Also, unless another respirator is specified, use the P100 filtering face respirator. In addition, Laborers should be sure to wash their hands and face before eating, drinking or smoking and, if possible, shower and change into clean clothes before going home. Employers should concentrate on upstream controls – engineering and administrative controls that limit exposure.”

The Fund’s Occupational Safety and Health staff is available to help LIUNA signatory contractors assess silica risks and make decisions about alleviating them. The Fund publishes a manual on the dangers of silica as well as a health alert on silicosis and a short pamphlet, Controlling Silica Exposures in Construction. All are available through the Fund’s Publications Catalogue. For direct assistance, contractors can call the LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division at 202-628-5465.

[Steve Clark]