ASA President’s Letter—September 2018
Dear ASA Members,
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released a series of training videos on OSHA’s standard for respirable crystalline silica in construction. The six new videos instruct users on methods for controlling exposure to silica dust when performing common construction tasks, or using construction equipment. The videos cover topics including handheld power saws, jackhammers, drills, and grinders.
OSHA also recently released a set of 53 Frequently Asked Questions to provide guidance to employers and employees. Through the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, ASA was involved in the formulation of these FAQs. The development of the FAQs stemmed from litigation filed against OSHA by numerous construction industry trade associations, including ASA, challenging the legality of OSHA’s rule. OSHA has also agreed to issue a Request for Information on Table 1 to revise the Table to improve its utility.
The FAQs are extensive and 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. While employers are encouraged to review all of the FAQs, the following are some of the clarifications provided in the document.
The standard applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica in construction work, except where employee exposures will remain below an Action Level of 25 µg/m3, calculated as an eight-hour time weighted average, under any foreseeable conditions. The exception is intended to ensure that the standard does not apply to employees whose work results in only minimal silica exposures.
The FAQs clarify that many common construction tasks are likely to be outside the scope of the standard because they typically generate exposures below the Action Level. This includes mixing small amounts of mortar; mixing small amounts of concrete; mixing bagged, silica-free drywall compound; mixing bagged exterior insulation finishing system 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 Action Level (examples include finishing and hand wiping block walls to remove excess wet mortar, pouring concrete, and grouting floor and wall tiles). The FAQs also state that many silica-generating tasks performed for only 15 minutes or less a day will fall outside the scope of the standard.
The standard permits employers to select from two methods of compliance to control exposures to respirable crystalline silica: “specified exposure control methods” commonly referred to as Table 1 or “alternative exposure control methods.” Employers that follow Table 1 do not have to assess employee exposures or separately ensure compliance with the permissible exposure limit. Table 1 includes common construction tasks.
The FAQs clarify that the Table 1 requirement that employers “[o]perate and maintain” tools “in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions to minimize dust emissions,” applies only to manufacturer instructions that are related to dust control. Other information in these instructions, including recommended respiratory protection, do not have to be followed for purposes of the standard.
For a few tasks on Table 1, respirator requirements vary based on task duration, i.e., whether the task is performed for “less than or equal to four hours/shift” or “greater than four hours/shift.” The FAQs make clear that an employer does not have to track the exact amount of time that employees are performing a job throughout a shift to be in compliance with Table 1. Rather, before a task is performed, an employer must make a good-faith judgment about whether the task will take more than four hours. If the employer anticipates that an employee will be engaged in a task for more than four hours, the employer must provide the employee, at the beginning of the shift, the respiratory protection required in the “greater than four hours/shift” column on Table 1. If, in contrast, the employer anticipates that an employee will be engaged in a task for four hours or less, the employer needs to provide respiratory protection in accordance with the “less than or equal to four hours/shift” column. Finally, the FAQs clarify that handheld powered demolition hammers with bushing tools and tile saws are covered by Table 1.
The standard includes requirements related to housekeeping on construction worksites. In particular, employers should not allow dry sweeping or dry brushing “where such activity could contribute to employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica unless wet sweeping, HEPA-filtered vacuuming or other methods that minimize the likelihood of exposure are not feasible.” In addition, employers must not allow compressed air to be used to clean clothing or surfaces where such activity could contribute to employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica unless: (1) the compressed air is used in conjunction with a ventilation system that effectively captures the dust cloud created by the compressed air, or (2) no alternative method is feasible.
The FAQs clarify that if employee exposure will remain below the allowable level under any foreseeable conditions, the prohibition on dry sweeping, dry brushing, and the use of compressed air for cleaning clothing and surfaces does not apply. They also clarify that the prohibition on these activities only applies to housekeeping activities, not to the use of these practices to perform a work task.
ASA will continue to look for ways to work with OSHA to improve the workability of this significant rule.
2018-19 ASA President