OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is the true guardian of construction workers’ safety.

The United States Department of Labor classifies the hazards of crystalline silica as a human lung carcinogen. OSHA has an established Permissible Exposure Limit, or PEL, which is the maximum amount of crystalline silica to which workers may be exposed during an 8-hour work shift. The rule states the employer must meet a strict standard for how much silica dust workers can inhale and lowered the allowable exposure level by 80 percent.

We know most companies take very seriously their responsibility to protect its employees from excess exposures to crystalline silica. The new standard specifies what services employers must make available to workers who are exposed to high levels of silica dust and the training required of those who are at risk.

Silica Safety Enforcement Ramps Up

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration‘s enforcement of the rule (29 C.F.R. 1926.1153) is gaining momentum since compliance requirements took effect September 23, 2017.

As of April 17, 2018, a  Bloomberg Environment analysis of states’ agency records show 116 alleged silica violations at companies around the U.S.  The number of violations in the initial six months is likely to increase since OSHA can take up to six months after an inspection to issue citations.

Key Points

The construction industry standard already in effect requires all employers to have a written exposure control plan, and each company is to have a competent person on staff trained in crystalline silica.

The written exposure plan must include identifying all tasks that present a potential exposure risk and the control methods used to protect workers. Exposure monitoring, medical surveillance and training are also requirements of the new standard.

In lieu of exposure monitoring, an employer may opt to follow the control methods listed within OSHA Table 1 of the construction standard. However, the additional medical surveillance and training are still required.

Resource: OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction Fact Sheet.

  • “Crystalline Silica Exposure” (Health Hazard)
    • Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal.
    • Respirable silica dust enters the lungs and causes the formation of scar tissue, thus reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. There is no cure for silicosis.

History of Crystalline Silica Exposure

Silica is primarily composed of quartz dust and has been classified since 2000 as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. government. Silicosis is a disease caused by inhaling respirable silica dust. The inhalation of dust containing crystalline silica has plagued industry since workers began drilling into the earth. Since the early 1990s, OSHA began taking serious steps to enact regulatory efforts to manage the deadly incidents.

The health risks associated with exposure to this dust are well documented. Since the discovery of the danger of silica dust exposure in 1700 by Dr. Bernardino Ramazzini, considered the founder of occupational medicine, workers have suffered silica related illnesses and often death.

In the early 1930s, the Gauley Bridge tunnel project became the site of one of the worst industrial disasters in U.S. history. As the economic crisis of the Great Depression worsened and unemployment mounted, workers became willing to face any kind of physical hazard in order to hang onto their jobs. Hundreds of workers died from silicosis while building the tunnel and another 1,500 were reported to have contracted the disease within two years of working on the project.  Read more about this tragedy here.

Risk Management

Crystalline silica is a common mineral that is found in construction materials such as sand, stone, concrete, brick, and mortar. When workers cut, grind, drill, or crush materials that contain crystalline silica, very small dust particles are created. These tiny particles (known as “respirable” particles) can travel deep into workers’ lungs and cause silicosis, an incurable and sometimes deadly lung disease.

Managing your risk is the main priority at MRG. We’re much more than an insurance broker, and through a qualified risk assessment, we will get to the core of each of our partners’ true exposures. Through an integrated approach, MRG’s team utilizes a front-line view into our partner clients’ operations allowing success time and time again. This insight guides how we apply resources to build the most comprehensive and cost effective risk transfer program available.

MRG’s service model includes:

  • OSHA compliance
  • Contractual liability training for project managers
  • Subcontract review and consultation
  • Fleet safety management
  • Experience modification accuracy review program
  • Post-injury management
  • Development of post offer physical programs