Silica is an important industrial material found in the earth’s crust. Quartz, the most common silica is a component of sand, stone, rock, concrete, brick, and mortar. In its idle form, it is found to be harmless. However, silica dust can be dangerous to anyone who breathes it in. Dust particles can penetrate into the lungs causing lung disease, cancer, kidney disease and silicosis. According to OSHA’s statistics, roughly 2.3 million occupants are exposed to silica in their work places annually, including 2 million construction workers and 300,000 others.
Silica has been recognized as hazardous since the 1930s when the U.S. department of labor noticed a spike in worker deaths. It wasn’t until the 1970s when OSHA was created and a standard was set to limit worker exposure. However, workers were not adequately protected. Up until 2013, there were zero regulations placed for silica exposure which left contractors confused as to what was required. In September of 2013, a new OSHA regulatory standard was created and reviewed. The standard was approved to go into effect in June of 2016.
Below are several key requirements to limiting exposure to silica dust:
Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.
Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.
Property owners are unlikely to see an immediate impact from this ruling. However, they are required to disclose any information regarding known presence of silica-containing materials before signing a contract with a contractor to provide renovation services. It is also important that the owner informs building occupants that silica dust may present a potential hazard to them. By hiring the right contractor, the owner can ensure that the building is properly mitigated.