By Mike Bales

On September 23, 2017, OSHA’s new Silica standard (1926.1153) goes into effect. For construction companies with a relatively low silica exposure, a largely misguided response has been repeated over and over – “this doesn’t affect me and my company.”

In reality, ANY silica exposure must be evaluated and proven to ensure there is no over-exposure to silica dust. That means if you have an employee that drills an anchor into concrete, you must be able to prove he/she is under the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 50 μg/m3, which is approximately half of what the old silica standard allowed for exposure.

Silica PhotoAccording to OSHA and the new standard, respirable silica dust is not visible to the naked eye, so if a worker is exposed to visible silica dust there is a reasonable likelihood that he/she may be over-exposed. If an OSHA inspector is on site and notices an employee is performing a task and creating dust, they will likely sample the air quality for the employee and analyze it for silica because this is a new standard and an OSHA emphasis program.

How do you prove you are not over-exposing your employees? By either utilizing objective data collected during silica sampling or following OSHA’s new Table 1 exactly as it is written. Keep in mind you still need a written Exposure Control Plan for any level of silica dust exposure and that plan must be managed by your competent person who has been trained to identify the hazards of silica and been authorized by your company to manage employees' exposures.

ABC of Wisconsin is ready to help you and your company manage this new standard. One of our services offered is Silica sampling, where a safety professional will come to your jobsite and install a sampling pump on an employee. The cartridge of that sample will be sent to a lab and analyzed to determine the exact level of silica exposure. Another service is the Silica Awareness Training for the Competent Person course. This two-hour course is everything your competent person needs to know about silica and the new standard. For both services, we will work with you to determine what the information means, how to best protect your employees and your company and meet the intent of the new silica standard. Contact ABC of WI today for more information.

Mike Bales is a safety manager with ABC of Wisconsin.