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Update on Silica Rules for Construction Job Sites

Silica dust particles are 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, and they can cause lung diseases like silicosis and cancer in workers who are exposed to levels higher than the permissible exposure levels over time. Silica is found in mortar, concrete, fiberboard and a number of other job site materials. It is created by the drilling, grinding, and sawing of those materials. The dust can adhere to clothes and can be inhaled by workers who are using the equipment or those who are working near the place where those activities are taking place on a job site.


OSHA, in a move thought too restrictive by some and too loose by others, released new rules for Permissible Exposure Levels for silica in the construction industry on March 25, 2016. The rules reduced allowable levels of exposure by 80% and covered workers who might be exposed to levels of silica dust particles of over 50 micrograms per square meter over an 8-hour time span. The defined Action Level, where action to reduce is mandatory, is any situation where testing shows levels over 25 micrograms/meter over the 8-hour test period.


After review and challenges from a variety of sources on both sides of the issue, the revised rules were put into effect on September 23, 2017, a year ago next week and went into full enforcement in the construction industry on October 23, 2017. 


Now, a year later, a number of companies have responded and implemented the required compliance programs, but many have yet to develop and implement the required program for their workers and job sites. OSHA has cited over 120 firms and can fine companies up to $129,000 plus for non-compliance.  The number of inspections is expected to rise as we move forward so we thought we should give you a “heads up” so that you don’t get caught in an OSHA inspection. 


AGC National and a number of local chapters, like AGC Houston, have assembled work groups to issue guidelines to assist companies in their compliance programs. In addition to OSHA guidelines and publications, last month OSHA released a set of videos that smaller companies covered under the rules can use to develop plans specifically for the use of particular machines, like power saws, jackhammers, drills and grinders, to minimize conditions that create silica dust.


It is worthy to note that General Contractors can be held responsible for the compliance of all subs on their job site, especially if the subs do not have a compliance plan. 


For a FAQs section on the rule and implementation, you can go to this site: https://www.osha.gov/dsg/topics/silicacrystalline/construction_info_silica.html