In September 2017, OSHA’s most comprehensive standard for the construction industry in more than 20 years went into effect. Known as the Crystalline Silica Rule, the standard is designed to protect construction workers — particularly those in dust-laden environments associated with using masonry saws, grinders, drills and jackhammers — from developing health issues including cancer and respiratory and kidney diseases.
Tribco Construction Services was ready for the changes, which will likely affect the industry as significantly as OSHA’s fall protection rule of 1995. Like the fall protection rule, many years of planning and a substantial amount of industry feedback were required for OSHA to develop the new Crystalline Silica Rule. Our sister company, Ceco Concrete Construction, was part of this process, working in cooperation with the American Subcontractor Association and the Construction Industry Safety Coalition in providing feedback to OSHA. As part of the 2016 Silica Consortium, which also included Hilti North America, the Center for Construction Research and Training, and nxtMOVE Corporation, Ceco helped develop an industry white paper on the topic. The resulting recommendations guided OSHA’s development of the new Crystalline Silica Rule.
The Crystalline Silica Rule offers three methods for employers to protect their employees and demonstrate compliance. One of these methods is known as Table 1, a table of predefined tasks and specific control methods to effectively protect employees. According to OSHA, employers can either use a control method laid out in Table 1, or they can measure workers’ exposure to silica and independently decide which dust controls work best to limit exposures in their workplaces. The good news for the construction industry is that in Table 1, OSHA has so clearly outlined the objective data and control methods for minimizing silica emissions, that in most cases construction firms won’t need to spend additional resources and funds to create objective data to support their method of controlling silica emissions.
To comply with the new silica rule, Tribco worked in conjunction with industry tool manufacturers to identify nine tasks in Table 1 that could be performed on any Tribco project as part of Tribco’s or its subcontractors’ scope of work. Tribco has incorporated these tasks into a site silica-control plan that is now part of our Formwork and Frame Safety Plan documents. In addition, our safety personnel worked with local network medical providers to set up Medical Surveillance protocols, which are required for employees who use respirators for 30 or more days per year.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes for the industry is that the rule places more emphasis on engineering controls and less dependence on the use of respiratory protection. For example, vacuums for dust collection and tools with integrated water-delivery systems to minimize dust emissions will be the go-to methods for protecting employees on jobsites in the future. In the past, respirators may have been overprescribed in an abundance of caution. But now that OSHA has gathered years of research and data on dust emissions, the appropriate engineering control can be utilized. For workers who previously had to wear respirators while working all day in hot, humid environments, the changes are especially welcome.
As the industry meets the changing guidelines, construction firms must provide the appropriate training to be successful. Tribco began training our managers and superintendents on the silica health hazards and control methods in February 2017. New employees hired after March 1, 2017, received training as part of the new-employee orientation process. Competent-person training of field supervisors also began in March and include direct training of supervisors and employees in correct tool use, Table 1 tasks, and Medical Surveillance requirements. Existing employees began training in April 2017, via use of special weekly toolbox safety meetings. Training is ongoing, and topics address what silica is, what the hazards are and the protective measures the company employs.
When the new Crystalline Silica Rule went into effect last year, Tribco was fully prepared to lead our workforce into this new era of jobsite protection. Protecting our employees has always been our highest priority. As always, our goal is to do the right thing and keep every worker safe in every situation.
Steve Hess is Vice President of Safety & Training Services for Heico Construction Group, the parent company of Ceco Concrete Construction.