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OSHA Releases Silica Rule FAQs and Training Videos

Asher TobinIn The News

OSHA Releases Silica Rule FAQs and Training Videos

Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica 29 C.F.R. § 1926.1153

Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) for the Construction Industry

On March 25, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a final rule regulating occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica (silica) in the construction industry (the standard). 81 Fed. Reg. 16286. OSHA developed these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the standard in consultation with industry and union stakeholders.

These FAQs provide guidance to employers and employees regarding the standard’s requirements. This document is organized by topic. A short introductory paragraph is included for each group of questions and answers to provide background information about the underlying regulatory requirements.

The 53 listed FAQs focus on the construction industry. The questions address:

  • Scope;
  • Definitions;
  • Exposure control methods;
  • Housekeeping;
  • Written exposure control plans;
  • Medical surveillance;
  • Employee information and training; and
  • Recordkeeping.

The following acronyms are used throughout this document:

AL – action level (25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average)
HEPA filter – high-efficiency particulate air filter
PEL – permissible exposure limit (50 μg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average)
PLHCP – physician or other licensed health care professional
TWA – time-weighted average

Yes. When the following tasks are performed in isolation from other silica-generating tasks, they typically do not generate silica at or above the AL of 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA under any foreseeable conditions: mixing small amounts of mortar; mixing small amounts of concrete; mixing bagged, silica-free drywall compound; mixing bagged exterior insulation finishing system (EIFS) base and finish coat; and removing concrete formwork. In addition, tasks where employees are working with silica-containing products that are, and are intended to be, handled while wet, are likely to generate exposures below the AL under any foreseeable conditions (examples include finishing and hand wiping block walls to remove excess wet mortar, pouring concrete, and grouting floor and wall tiles).

The standard does not include a specific exemption for tasks with only short-term exposures (e.g., tasks with exposures for 15 minutes a day or less). However, in many cases, employees who perform construction tasks for very short periods of time, in isolation from activities that generate significant exposures to silica (e.g., some tasks listed on Table 1, abrasive blasting), will be exposed below the AL of 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA under any foreseeable conditions. Short-term silica exposures must be very high in order for those exposures to reach or exceed 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA; for example, if an employee is exposed for only 15 minutes, his or her exposure would have to be higher than 800 μg/m3 for that 15-minute period before the 8-hour TWA exposure would be at or above 25 μg/m3. See 81 Fed. Reg. at 16706. Some examples of tasks that could generate very high short-term exposures include abrasive blasting and grinding, which are typically associated with high levels of visible dust.

OSHA has identified carpenters, plumbers, and electricians as types of workers who may perform tasks (e.g., drilling with a handheld drill) involving occasional, brief exposures to silica that are incidental to their primary work. See 81 Fed. Reg. at 16706. Provided that these employees perform these tasks in isolation from activities that generate significant exposures to silica, and perform them for no more than 15 minutes throughout the work day, their exposures will usually fall below the AL of 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA under all foreseeable conditions; when that is the case, these employees will not be covered by the standard.

No. The standard does not require employers to document determinations about the applicability of the standard or the data on which such determinations are based. See 81 Fed. Reg. at 16706. However, an employer may document these determinations for its own purposes. Furthermore, OSHA notes that nothing in the silica standard alters employers’ duty to maintain employee exposure records under 29 C.F.R. § 1910.1020.

Yes, if it is foreseeable that the exposures of employees will be affected by exposures generated by other contractors. On many construction sites, there are multiple contractors performing silica-generating tasks. The silica generated by these tasks can migrate to employees of other contractors. Employers need to consider these secondary exposures when determining whether their employees’ exposures will remain below the AL under any foreseeable conditions. If, however, an employer can ensure – either due to the nature and timing of the work, or through work practice controls – that its employees will not be exposed to silica generated by other contractors, then the employer would not need to consider secondary exposures in determining whether its employees will be exposed below the AL under any foreseeable conditions.

No. None of the standard’s requirements apply if, without implementing any controls, all employees’ exposures to silica will remain below the AL of 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA under any foreseeable conditions.

The standard does not specify particular training requirements for competent persons. Instead, it defines a competent person in terms of capability, i.e., whether a designated competent person has the knowledge and ability to perform the duties prescribed by the standard. The employer must also give the competent person the authority to perform those duties. See 29 C.F.R. § 1926.1153(b).

To determine whether a given employee has the appropriate knowledge and ability to perform the duties of the competent person, an employer needs to confirm that the employee is capable of:

  1. Identifying existing and foreseeable silica hazards; and
  2. Promptly eliminating or minimizing those hazards.

See 29 C.F.R. § 1926.1153(b). In addition, the employee must be capable of making frequent and regular inspections of job sites, materials, and equipment for purposes of implementing the written exposure control plan, to ensure that the engineering controls, work practice controls, required respiratory protection, housekeeping measures, and procedures to restrict access in the workplace are implemented for the silica-generating tasks listed in the plan. See 29 C.F.R. § 1926.1153(g)(1)(i)-(iv), (g)(4).

A person with these capabilities (whether acquired through training, education, work experience, or otherwise), who is authorized by the employer to perform the duties of a competent person, qualifies as a competent person under the standard.

Yes. The standard does not require employers to independently test the effectiveness of filters to determine if they meet the definition in paragraph (b). Employers can rely on a manufacturer’s representation that a filter is at least 99.97 percent efficient in removing mono-dispersed particles of 0.3 micrometers in diameter or that it is compliant with the OSHA definition of a “HEPA filter.” However, employers must properly select, use, maintain, and replace HEPA filters in order to ensure that they continue to function according to the manufacturer’s specifications.