Clearing the Air
Repeated exposure to respirable silica poses long-term health risks, according to medical studies. How much exposure is considered safe? In 1971, OSHA established 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m³) per 8-hour workday as the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to respirable silica dust for the construction industry. In March, OSHA published a final rule lowering the PEL to 50 µg/m³ averaged per 8-hour day effective June 23, 2016, with compliance required by June 23, 2017. The construction industry in general has rejected this rule on the basis of technological infeasibility plus the untenable costs related to reducing exposure by 80%.
In an effort to educate contractors, ICPI has approved new language for inclusion in its contractor courses and manuals (see sidebar). Though OSHA might rarely visit residential jobsites, an estimated 75% of all pavers and paver products see use in residential applications. Thus, raising awareness and providing knowledge on jobsite protection are important responsibilities for ICPI. A resource webpage on respirable silica is in the works for the new ICPI.org website. It will include links to research and reports on the issue.
Worker health and safety are universal priorities on which everyone can agree. Workers understand why protecting their eyes, backs, knees, elbows and hands are important because there is a fairly immediate cause and effect if they do not. However, effects from repeated exposure to respirable silica can become manifest over a long period of time. When risks are not immediately apparent, prevention may seem less imperative. That is why knowledge and awareness are so important, as well as safety training. A worker’s lungs need protection too.