OSHA Proposes Silica Dust Rules to Protect Workers’ Lungs

    Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed new rules to protect workers from potential health hazards of crystalline silica particles, which some experts say can contribute to developing lung cancer, kidney disease, respiratory illnesses and silicosis – a progressive, incurable disease.

    The proposed new rules are undergoing a process of public comment and review, which began in March 2014, before a final decision is made to implement them – or not – but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a topic of controversy in the construction industry. Some national building associations are calling for more feasible and cost-effective regulations to keep workers safe rather than the current proposed rules, which some independent sources say will cost the construction industry $1 billion a year in compliance.

    Understanding the source

    Silica is an industrial material found in nature that occurs in several forms including quartz, which is a component of rock, concrete, brick, block, mortar and other commons construction materials.

    Those who work with glass manufacturing, cement cutting, demolition, sandblasting and more are at risk for inhaling small silica particles, which could lead to lung diseases and scarring of the lungs. The current rules for exposure are nearly 40 years old, which prompted OSHA to take a closer look at new regulations.

    Raising hazard awareness and prevention

    Awareness is a big factor to help prevent workplace exposure. The most severe exposure can occur during blasting with sand to remove paint and rust from structures like bridges, concrete and other surfaces as well as concrete drilling, block cutting and sawing.

    What can commercial construction companies and contractors do to help mitigate the risks?

    1)    Choose to replace crystalline silica materials with safer alternatives

    2)    Use protective equipment and measures when exposure cannot be avoided

    3)    Wear only NIOSH-certified respirators

    4)    Participate in training and health screening and surveillance programs

    5)    Do not eat, drink, smoke or apply cosmetics in areas where silica dust is present

    At Leon Williams Contractors, we definitely believe in being proactive. What is your take on the new silica dust rules?

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