Breathe Easy: What You Need To Know About Silica Safety

If you are in the construction industry as an employer or an employee, you undoubtedly have been hearing about the dangers of the inhalation of crystalline silica.

Materials like sand, stone, concrete, and mortar contain crystalline silica. It is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, and artificial stone.  The term respirable crystalline silica refers to the microscopic particles of silica that can be inhaled by a person while they are sawing brick or concrete; sanding or drilling into concrete walls; grinding mortar; manufacturing brick, concrete blocks, stone countertops, or ceramic products; and cutting or crushing stone. These tiny particles are taken into the lungs upon inspiration, and can cause a slew of health issues including Silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability or death, COPD, kidney disease and lung cancer.

The American construction industry is deeply affected, as about 2.3 million construction workers in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work.  To address this national problem, OSHA has come out with a new standard to keep employees safe from these crippling diseases. These new guidelines became enforceable throughout the construction industry in September, and will be mandated for general industry in early 2018, meaning businesses of all stripes across America will be responsible for keeping employees safe from exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

These changes mean it is imperative that employers make sure that their employees are up to date and not only understand, but also implement these new guidelines for the protection of themselves and your company. 

The new guidelines mandate a plethora of policies and protocols, some which are new to the industry, others that were not necessarily enforced as vehemently, and it is very important to make sure you, as a business owner or human resource manager of a large construction company, are ready to make these changes immediately, because OSHA is already citing businesses who fail to meet the new standard.  Some of these mandated safety measures include:

1. Establishing and implementing an exposure control plan, designating a competent person to implement that plan.

2. Restricting housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica.

3.  Offering medical exams including chest x-rays and lung function tests every three years.

4.  Training workers on ways to limit exposure.

5.  Keeping records of exposure measurements and medical exams.

There is a lot of information to take in, and a lot of information to have to teach. Fortunately, the team at Safety Consulting and Compliance is ready to help you take on the task.  We offer worksite or off site evaluation of your safety protocols and practices, teach classes to get your employees up to speed on the latest guidelines, and help you keep stellar records should you encounter an OSHA audit.  Give SCC a call and allow us to show you how to save time, save money, and, most importantly, save your employees.