Most any general contractor could have told the public health researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell what their recent air samples showed.
Protecting workers and bystanders from respirable silica during chipping and crushing activities is not easy, even when dust-control measures are in place.
The air samples found that workers involved in chipping and crushing, not surprisingly, had the highest exposure to respirable silica, with levels above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s permissible exposure limit, or PEL.
OSHA isn’t expected to make any changes to its silica standard despite such findings but, in case you missed it, it did come up with 53 responses to the most frequently asked questions about the rule and how it applies to the construction industry.
The standard established a new permissible exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica at 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged during an 8-hour shift. That PEL is five times lower than the previous limit for construction.
Don’t have time to go through OSHA’s entire FAQ? Here are what we consider three important questions and the agency’s responses:
Question: Do construction employers have to consider exposures from other contractors when determining if their employees’ exposures will remain below permissible levels under any foreseeable conditions?
Answer: Yes, if it is foreseeable that the exposures of employees will be affected by exposures generated by other contractors. On many construction sites, there are multiple contractors performing silica-generating tasks. The silica generated by these tasks can migrate to employees of other contractors. Employers need to consider these secondary exposures when determining whether their employees’ exposures will remain below the permissible levels under any foreseeable conditions.
Q: Does the standard require employees to participate in medical surveillance?
A: No, although the standard requires employers to make medical surveillance available to qualifying employees, the standard does not require qualifying employees to participate in medical surveillance. However, the employer must offer the examination fairly and in good faith, at no cost to employees, and at a reasonable time and place, and must make another examination available if the employee requests it or, at a minimum, the next time an examination is due (i.e., within three years).
Q: Does the standard require employers to count any day during which an employee is required to use a respirator, for any amount of time, as a “day of respirator use” for purposes of applying the standard’s 30-day trigger for medical surveillance?
A: Yes. If an employee is required by the standard to use a respirator at any time during a given day, regardless of the duration of the respirator use, that day counts as one day toward the 30-day threshold for medical surveillance. Thus, a “day” of respirator use for purposes of the 30-day threshold does not mean a full day of respirator use.
There’s a lot more covered in OSHA’s FAQ on the silica standard but don’t hesitate to let us know if you could use help sorting through it all. The standard, we should note, does not apply to employers who have objective data demonstrating that their employees’ exposure will remain below the action level.
Scott Carlson is a Vice President at CCIG and heads the firm’s construction practice. Reach him at ScottC@thinkccig.com or 720-330-7925.
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