The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently postponed enforcement of new, stricter rules regarding worker exposure to silica dust on job sites. Originally scheduled to begin June 23, 2017, enforcement of the new rules will now begin Sept. 23, 2017. Current rules will be changed this fall to reflect substantial reductions in exposure to airborne dust on job sites. A key rule change is a reduction in the 8-hour exposure limit from 100 to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over an eight-hour day. Determining exposure to these small concentrations is typically done by workers wearing lightweight, portable air monitoring equipment that captures dust while on the job site.
Current rules require a written exposure control plan with specific tasks to protect workers. This is implemented by a designated, competent person who articulates housekeeping practices that reduce exposure with feasible alternatives. Employers must offer medical exams including chest x-rays and lung function tests to employees. These must be done every three years for workers who wear a respirator for 30 or more days annually. There must be ongoing worker training in saw cutting and other operations that result in silica exposure with instruction in ways to limit exposure. Finally, employers must keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.
OSHA’s new silica exposure rules are delayed to give more time for construction companies to comply. Silica dust on job sites requires control measures via wet (or dry) saw cutting with a vacuum system and worker protection equipment. The pavers shown here are among 5 million square feet in container yards at the Port of Oakland, CA.