Construction Industry Silica Enforcement
July 26, 2018
Silica is a common mineral found on construction sites. It can be part of the soil, rock, concrete, masonry, industrial projects, and landscaping material that is used on jobsites. Once it is disturbed through drilling, grinding, or cutting, it creates crystalline dust. When inhaled, these tiny particles can cause lung cancer, respiratory disease, pulmonary problems, and kidney disease. Symptoms may not appear until years after the worker is exposed.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) specifies that construction companies keep levels at or lower than a permissible exposure level (PEL) of 50 micrograms during an eight-hour workday. There are additional parameters for different tools and construction tasks. The regulation was created to help prevent hundreds of silica-related diseases and silicosis each year and was originally approved by OSHA in 2016. Employer groups later started a court challenge, but it was eventually defeated at the end of 2017.
New Standards in Effect
Last June, OSHA introduced new standards for silica exposure. Employers need to have written exposure control plans that include workplace tasks, engineering controls, and respiratory controls that are used to limit silica exposure. Employees that are exposed to levels higher than the PEL for 30 days or more per year must be offered medical examinations every three years.
OSHA is also requiring employers to educate and train their workers about silica, so that they will understand how to limit their exposure. It also includes housekeeping measures, such as ventilation systems, and procedures for restricting access to minimize employee contact. Record-keeping of employee exposure, medical exams, and treatment are also part of the new standards.
Since enforcement began, OSHA has issued over 100 violations to construction companies, with about 80 percent classified as serious. The most common was failing to assess worker exposure to silica dust. There were also citations for not conforming to the equipment and task list, lack of respiratory protection, and engineering and control processes. Companies without exposure control plans were also cited. OSHA plans to extend the new standards to other industries in the coming years.
Who is Most at Risk for Silica Exposure?
It is estimated that there are over two million workers in the United States that have been exposed to silica. Employees that work with ready-mix concrete, granite, paint, asphalt, stone products, hydraulic gas and oil fracturing, and railroads may be at a higher risk for exposure. Other industries in this category include dental laboratories, landscaping, and jewelry production. Higher levels of exposure over longer time periods greatly increase the chances for developing silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other fatal diseases. High-risk work includes sandblasting and tuckpointing, the latter of which is used in brickwork.
Additional materials that contain silica include drywall, grout, plaster, concrete roof tiles, sand, and clay. Those who work with these materials or in these industries need to be familiar with the hazards of silica and how to limit exposure. Using proper tools and equipment, face masks, and following all OSHA regulations are key. Any employee working with silica that believes the OSHA regulations are not being followed in the workplace should speak with their supervisor.
Philadelphia Construction Accident Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Help Victims of Silica-Related Accidents
If you have experienced a silica-related illness or a construction accident, we are on your side. Contact a Philadelphia construction accident lawyer at DiTomaso Law for a professional case evaluation. Call us today at 215-426-4493 or contact us online. We are in Philadelphia and we proudly serve clients from the surrounding areas.
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