How OSHA Standards Impact Your Workplace
Gary Glader, a Certified Safety Professional with The Horton Group, stopped by our regular membership meeting in September to discuss the impact of two recently updated OSHA standards and rules: respirable crystalline silica and electronic recordkeeping. Glader noted that the year started off fairly quietly with the new administration, but inspection frequency has increased significantly. To avoid hefty OSHA fines — which increased in 2016 — comply with the newest rules and regulations to the best of your ability.
RESPIRABLE CRYSTALLINE SILICA
Face masks and respirators have their place in construction safety, but you’re going to need to adopt a more comprehensive plan to comply with OSHA’s new standard for respirable crystalline silica.
Silica is virtually everywhere; it can be found in most building materials, including sand, concrete, grout, brick, drywall, tile and many more. Handling these materials is generally safe for workers — until they are cut or ground, which releases tiny particles that can be inhaled into the lungs. Silicosis, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are all linked to silica exposure.
The new standard significantly lowers the permissible exposure limit of silica dust particles from 250 micrograms/m3 to 50 micrograms/m3 over an eight-hour work shift. Among other measures, it also requires medical evaluations, written programs and employee training.
Although compliance for the new standard only just took effect on September 23, groups representing labor have challenged certain provisions in the months since the standard was released — specifically, medical monitoring requirements.
“The trouble is, what’s going to happen when workers are diagnosed when they have other habits that contributed to their COPD, like smoking,” Glader said. He cited “aggravation of a pre-existing condition,” which almost always results in costly claims to the current employer.
Additionally, the medical information doesn’t follow the employee, creating further costly, and often unnecessary, medical visits.
Because silica is so universal in the construction industry, nearly every contractor will be impacted by this new standard. Glader suggested identifying your company’s routine activities and following the engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protection listed on Table 1 of the standard.