Silica Rule Clarified in 53 FAQs from OSHA

by Patrick OToole
osha regulation

At the behest of several industry groups, including NARI and NAHB, OSHA recently released a set of 53 frequently asked questions that pertain to following the Silica Rule, which was imposed in 2016. The FAQ document goes a long way to clarifying the day-to-day roles and responsibilities of implementing the rule at construction firms, including residential remodelers.

The release of the FAQs are timed to coincide with stepped-up enforcement of the rule, which reportedly began in July.  The rule sets forth a comprehensive set of guidelines for keeping workers safe in environments where dust from a wide variety of activities – from demolition to sawing masonry – becomes airborne and breathable. Silica is a known carcinogen capable of creating illness and disease for those exposed. Significantly the rule sets forth an “Action Level” of 25 micrograms per cubic meters of air. The rule only applies and requires action at levels higher than this 25 micrograms. It also establishes a permissible exposure limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour time-weighted average.

Here are some significant guidelines (compiled by NARI) that emerged from the new FAQs.

  • Common Tasks Deemed Outside of the Action Level: These include mixing small amounts of mortar, mixing small amounts of concrete, mixing bagged silica-free drywall compound, mixing bagged exterior insulation finishing system base or top coat, and removing concrete framework. It also states that many additional tasks performed for under 15 minutes per day fall outside the scope of the rule.
  • Table 1: The FAQs go a long way of clarifying “specified exposure control methods” that are commonly referred to as Table 1. Companies have a choice of either complying with Table 1 or “alternative exposure control methods.” The key variable for this table is the employers estimate of the time it will take to complete a task where 25 micrograms or higher are present. Any period of time over four hours will require additional respiratory equipment.
  • Housekeeping: Certain jobsite clean-up activities are prohibited – namely dry sweeping or dry brushing “where such activity could contribute to employee exposure to respirable silica unless wet sweeping, HEPA filtered vacuuming or other methods… are not feasible.” Similarly employers must not allow compressed air to clean surfaces or clothing.
  • Written Exposure Control Plan: Employers must have plans that include the following elements: (1) a description of the tasks in the workplace that involve exposure to silica; (2) a description of the engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection used to limit employee exposure to silica for each task; (3) a description of the housekeeping measures used to limit employee exposure to silica; and (4) a description of the procedures used to restrict access to work areas.
  • No new plan for each worksite: Employers may develop a single comprehensive written exposure control plan that covers all required aspects of the plan for all work activities at all worksites.

Medical Surveillance: The standard requires construction employers to make medical surveillance available at no cost, and at a reasonable time and place, to any employee who is required by the silica standard to use a respirator for 30 or more days a year.  Details can be found in the FAQs. QR

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