OSHA Publishes Silica FAQ

07 Mar OSHA Publishes Silica FAQ

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Since the brand-new OSHA policy for work direct exposure to respirable crystalline silica went into effect in 2017, OSHA has been attempting to clarify any questions regarding compliance.

The crystalline silica standard from OSHA has been controversial ever since its inception on June 23, 2016.

Adhering to the new standard has been difficult for Industrial sectors that have between one and five years of being compliant. By October 23, 2017, the building and construction sector was expected to conform.

The OSHA standard reduced the Permitted Exposure Limit (PEL) for workers in a dusty environment and insisted on safer work processes.  The call to employers to offer respirators to employees when other work methods were not able to protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

Evaluating the exposure of each employee that is or may reasonably be subjected to respirable crystalline silica at or over the permissible limitation falls on the employer.  Employers must create or utilize a work process alternative or real-time monitoring option to make the work environment safe.

According to Bloomberg Environmental, five citations were issued to a Virginia construction company for respirable crystalline silica violations totaling USD 304,130.  The fines may well be a record for the most substantial penalties ever under the new OSHA silica standard.

To offer clarification, the OSHA administration released a new silica standard Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) last month. Because of the many questions from the general industry and construction stakeholders, OSHA prepared the FAQ.

The goal of the FAQ is to provide further guidance to both employers and employees on the requirements of the OSHA standard.  The questions and answers revolve around the methods of compliance, regulated areas, exposure assessments, and communication of respirable hazards to employees.

Here are three frequently asked questions published in the OSHA General Industry FAQ.

Q: Can employers use data from real-time monitoring and exposure mapping to assess employee exposures under the performance option?

A: Yes. Data generated by real-time monitoring of respirable dust levels (conducted using direct-reading instruments) can be combined with exposure mapping to assess employee exposures under the performance option, provided that the data can be correlated with individual employee exposures and otherwise meet the requirements for objective data. OSHA notes that in order to estimate the level of respirable crystalline silica in the air using real-time monitoring data, employers must also know the percentage of silica in the dust (e.g., from the analysis of a bulk sample or information from a safety data sheet). If an employer does not know the percentage of silica in the dust, it can assume 100% of the respirable dust is silica for purposes of determining worst case exposures from real-time monitoring data under the standard.

Q: If an employer characterizes employee exposures under the performance option using objective data from real-time monitoring and exposure mapping, how often does the employer need to repeat the monitoring and mapping process?

A: The goal of the performance option is to give employers flexibility to accurately characterize employee exposures using whatever combination of air monitoring data or objective data is most appropriate for their circumstances. Therefore, OSHA has not specified exactly how often data should be collected for these purposes. Employers may rely on existing data as long as the data continues to be sufficient to accurately characterize employee exposures. OSHA notes, however, that accurately characterizing employee exposures is an ongoing duty, and employers must reassess exposures whenever a change in the production, process, control equipment, personnel, or work practices may reasonably be expected to result in new or additional exposures at or above the AL, or when the employer has any reason to believe that new or additional exposures at or above the AL have occurred. See 29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(d)(4)

Q: If personal sampling results show that one employee, who works in a small, non-enclosed area of a large building, is exposed above the PEL, but another employee, who is only a short distance away, is exposed below the PEL, how does the employer decide how far to extend the regulated area?

A: Because there is an exposure above the PEL, the facility must determine which task or operation is creating the overexposure and create a regulated area around that task or operation. In the example provided, the regulated area may include only the first employee’s work station. If the second employee is not exposed above the PEL and is not reasonably expected to be exposed above the PEL, the regulated area does not have to cover that employee’s work area. An employer could choose to use area sampling, real-time monitoring, or exposure mapping to assist in identifying the boundaries of a regulated area.

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For a full copy of the General Industry FAQ, please see this link -> https://www.osha.gov/dsg/topics/silicacrystalline/generalindustry_info_silica.html

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