Respirable crystalline silica is a dangerous hazard that millions of workers are unknowingly exposed to every year. Of these estimated 2 million workers, 840,000 of them are exposed to an amount of silica that exceeds the permissible exposure limit or the amount of exposure deemed safe. 90% of the individuals exposed to this material are employed in the construction industry.
Individuals who perform construction activities such as cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of concrete, brick, ceramic tiles, rock and stone products are unnecessarily putting themselves at risk of contracting deadly diseases caused by respirable crystalline silica. The tools and training needed to protect these individuals are widely available and inexpensive. The issue is that these safeguards are not being implemented and therefore workers are losing their lives to these fatal diseases that are absolutely preventable.
Exposure to respirable crystalline silica can cause silicosis, lung cancer as well as other respiratory and kidney diseases. The seriousness of the health hazards associated with exposure is emphasized by the amount of disabling illnesses and fatalities that occur in sandblasters and rock drillers, who are among workers at the highest risk of exposure.
OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Standard has been put in place to protect workers from harmful exposure to respirable crystalline silica. OSHA gives a few different options to employers when it comes to protecting workers and complying with the standard. Employers may either use specific control methods laid out in the standard or they may measure a workers exposure to respirable crystalline silica and decide for themselves which dust control method will best limit worker exposure.
Regardless of which method an employer chooses, if they are covered by the construction standard they must meet the following requirements:
• Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
• Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan.
• Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
• Offer medical exams—including chest X-rays and lung function tests—every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
• Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
• Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.
According to the OSHA Crystalline Silica Rule all workers whose workplaces are covered by the silica rule must receive silica training.