We’re one year into the enforcement of the respirable crystalline silica rule and a sizable amount of fines clearly shows OSHA is serious about silica safety.
In SafetyCal’s last article about OSHA’s silica enforcement, we wrote that in six short months there were 116 violations. As of today, the silica violation count is up to 640 cited since enforcement began on October 23, 2017, after a 30-day delay.
The most frequently cited part of the silica standard includes employers failing to measure airborne silica levels to determine if workers were endangered, per enforcement data from Bloomberg Environment. Inspectors cited 141 violations of the sampling requirement (29 CFR 1926.1153(c)(1))
Although silica violations are on the rise, 20% of them are easily avoidable with one simple plan.
The lack of a written silica exposure prevention plan led to 125 violations. The written exposure plan is to help contractors protect their workers from silica hazards. More silica violations will be on the horizon if employers continue to neglect this very critical plan.
A sample of the written silica exposure prevention plan indicates that silica safety steps need to be followed including:
- Controls are in place
- Work practices are followed
- Respiratory protection is provided
- Housekeeping is maintained
- Procedures are used to restrict access to work areas
Failing to educate workers about silica hazards was another commonly cited issue, resulting in 55 violations.
Silica violations in numbers (per Bloomberg Law):
- Failure to Monitor Exposure – 144 violations
- Improper Reduction Methods – 141 violations
- No Written Prevention Program – 125 violations
- Inadequate Worker Education – 55 violations
Additionally, a Virginia highway contractor received what could be the largest proposed fine for violating the new federal rules for protecting construction workers from silica dust. They faced charges totaling $304,130. Proposed fines exceeding $5,000 are rare, according to enforcement records.
Three of the violations were deemed willful, according to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, which enforces workplace safety regulations in the state, including:
- Allowing workers to use jackhammers to remove concrete from a bridge deck without requiring respiratory protection or wetting the concrete to limit dust.
- Failing to assess the potential exposure of workers to silica dust.
- Failing to provide adequate respiratory protection and medical evaluations to workers operating jackhammers.
It’s evident that awareness is the key to safety compliance. Per OSHA, as the employer, you are required to post signs at all entrances to regulate areas that bear the following legend:
DANGER RESPIRABLE CRYSTALLINE SILICA MAY CAUSE CANCER CAUSES DAMAGE TO THE LUNGS WEAR RESPIRATORY PROTECTION IN THIS AREA AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY
*Per OSHA, “DANGER” header must be in upper case lettering and the message is generally centered underneath the header. ANSI style (includes a visual alert symbol, (triangle with an exclamation point, a large symbol) and left-justified upper and lowercase message lettering) is also recognized by OSHA as acceptable.
In construction, the most common exposures to silica come from the disruption of materials containing crystalline silica, per NIOSH Construction Evidence Package April 2018:
- Chipping, hammering, and drilling of rock
- Crushing, loading, hauling, and dumping of rock
- Abrasive blasting using silica sand as the abrasive
- Abrasive blasting of concrete regardless of the abrasive used
- Sawing, hammering, drilling, grinding, and chipping of concrete or masonry
- Demolition of concrete and masonry structures
- Dry sweeping or pressurized air blowing of concrete, rock, or sand dust
- Operating vehicle-mounted drilling rigs
- Drywall finishing using silica-containing material
- Use of heavy equipment during earthmoving [NIOSH 1996; OSHA 2013a]