OSHA to Release Questions and Answers Regarding the Silica Rule

OSHA to Release Questions and Answers Regarding the Silica Rule

- Update from MCAA

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MCAA

Silica Update

An Important Update On Silica

We have learned that OSHA will be releasing approximately 300 questions and answers regarding the silica rule. They are clarifications to the rule and will help contractors understand the rule better. Below is a quick summary from the CISC attorney giving you a summary about the questions. The MCAA worked in conjunction with the coalition on these questions. You will find several questions specific to masonry installation and we are confident that you will find the clarifications helpful.

We want to remind you that if you have an OSHA inspection and silica is brought up, discussed or you receive a citation for silica, we would like to hear about it. We are tracking the enforcement side of silica across all the trades and where we see issues or interpretation discrepancies, we will be asking OSHA for clarification and explanation and if warranted a discharge of a potential citation if it was done in error. Communication will be key as we see the enforcement of this newer rule likely pick up in the months ahead.

Jeff Buczkiewicz, President, MCAA

OSHA's Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard For Construction

Frequently Asked Questions

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has just released a set of 53 Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) to provide guidance to employers and employees regarding OSHA’s respirable crystalline silica standard for construction. Through the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (“CISC”), Mason Contractors Association of America was involved in the formulation of these FAQs.

The development of the FAQs stemmed from litigation filed against OSHA by numerous construction industry trade associations challenging the legality of OSHA’s rule. OSHA has also agreed to issue a Request for Information (“RFI”) on Table 1 to revise the Table to improve its utility. Mason Contractors Association of America will continue to look for ways to work with OSHA to improve the workability of this significant rule.

The FAQs are extensive and organized by topic. A short introductory paragraph is included for each group of questions and answers to provide background information about the underlying regulatory requirements. While employers are encouraged to review all of the FAQs, the following are some of the clarifications provided in the document.

Scope

The standard applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica in construction work, except where employee exposures will remain below an Action Level (“AL”) of 25 µg/m3, calculated as an 8-hour time weighted average (“TWA”), under any foreseeable conditions. The exception is intended to ensure that the standard does not apply to employees whose work results in only minimal silica exposures.

The FAQs clarify that many common construction tasks are likely to be outside the scope of the standard because they typically generate exposures below the AL. This includes mixing small amounts of mortar; mixing small amounts of concrete; mixing bagged, silica-free drywall compound; mixing bagged exterior insulation finishing system base and finish coat; and removing concrete formwork. In addition, tasks where employees are working with silica-containing products that are, and are intended to be, handled while wet, are likely to generate exposures below the AL (examples include finishing and hand wiping block walls to remove excess wet mortar, pouring concrete, and grouting floor and wall tiles). The FAQs also state that many silica-generating tasks performed for only 15 minutes or less a day will fall outside the scope of the standard.

Table 1

The standard permits employers to select from two methods of compliance to control exposures to respirable crystalline silica: “specified exposure control methods” commonly referred to as Table 1 or “alternative exposure control methods.” Employers that follow Table 1 do not have to assess employee exposures or separately ensure compliance with the permissible exposure limit. Table 1 includes common construction tasks.

The FAQs clarify that the Table 1 requirement that employers “operate and maintain” tools “in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions to minimize dust emissions,” applies only to manufacturer instructions that are related to dust control. Other information in these instructions, including recommended respiratory protection, do not have to be followed for purposes of the standard.

For a few tasks on Table 1, respirator requirements vary based on task duration, i.e., whether the task is performed for “less than or equal to four hours/shift” or “greater than four hours/shift.” The FAQs make clear that an employer does not have to track the exact amount of time that employees are performing a job throughout a shift to be in compliance with Table 1. Rather, before a task is performed, an employer must make a good-faith judgment about whether the task will take more than four hours. If the employer anticipates that an employee will be engaged in a task for more than four hours, the employer must provide the employee, at the beginning of the shift, the respiratory protection required in the “greater than four hours/shift” column on Table 1. If, in contrast, the employer anticipates that an employee will be engaged in a task for four hours or less, the employer needs to provide respiratory protection in accordance with the “less than or equal to four hours/shift” column. Finally, the FAQs clarify that handheld powered demolition hammers with bushing tools and tile saws are covered by Table 1.

Housekeeping

The standard includes requirements related to housekeeping on construction worksites. In particular, employers must not allow dry sweeping or dry brushing “where such activity could contribute to employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica unless wet sweeping, HEPA-filtered vacuuming or other methods that minimize the likelihood of exposure are not feasible.” In addition, employers must not allow compressed air to be used to clean clothing or surfaces where such activity could contribute to employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica unless: (1) the compressed air is used in conjunction with a ventilation system that effectively captures the dust cloud created by the compressed air, or (2) no alternative method is feasible.

The FAQs clarify that if employee exposure will remain below the AL under any foreseeable conditions, the prohibition on dry sweeping, dry brushing, and the use of compressed air for cleaning clothing and surfaces does not apply. They also clarify that the prohibition on these activities only apply to housekeeping activities, not to the use of these practices to perform a work task.

Written Exposure Control Program

The standard requires employers to establish and implement a written exposure control plan that contains at least the following elements: (1) a description of the tasks in the workplace that involve exposure to silica; (2) a description of the engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection used to limit employee exposure to silica for each task; (3) a description of the housekeeping measures used to limit employee exposure to silica; and (4) a description of the procedures used to restrict access to work areas, when necessary, to minimize the number of employees exposed to silica and their level of exposure, including exposures generated by other employers or sole proprietors.

The FAQs clarify that the standard does not require employers to develop a new written plan for each job or worksite. It requires only that employers have a written exposure control plan applicable to each worksite. Employers may develop a single comprehensive written exposure control plan that covers all required aspects of the plan for all work activities at all worksites. The FAQs also clarify that when silica generating tasks are being performed, the standard is not intended to prohibit all employees from entering entire areas of a construction site simply because employees in those areas are performing some work involving the generation of silica. The rule calls only for minimizing the number of employees in the relevant work areas. The standard does not preclude employees from entering work areas where silica-generating tasks are occurring when it is necessary for them to do so.

Medical Surveillance

The standard requires construction employers to make medical surveillance available at no cost, and at a reasonable time and place, to any employee who is required by the silica standard to use a respirator for 30 or more days a year. An initial examination must be offered within 30 days of initial assignment, unless the employee has received a medical examination that meets the requirements of the standard within the last three years.

The employee will receive a written medical report within 30 days of each exam that includes: (1) a statement indicating the results of the medical examination; (2) any recommended limitations on the employee’s use of respirators; (3) any recommended limitations on the employee’s exposure to silica; and (4) a statement, if applicable, that the employee should be examined by a specialist. The employer must also obtain a written medical opinion within 30 days of each exam, which contains more limited information than the report to the employee. The opinion to the employer contains the date of the examination, a statement that the examination has met the requirements of the standard, and any recommended limitations on the employee’s use of respirators.

The FAQs make some important clarifications regarding medical surveillance. The silica standard does not preclude in-house health care providers from performing the required medical surveillance examinations. In addition, the standard does not preclude employers from receiving the same information that employees receive from the surveillance examination, if it is received for other purposes and through other means, such as through workers compensation records and proceedings. The FAQs also make clear that the standard requires employers to make medical surveillance available to qualifying employees, but does not require that employees participate in the surveillance.

More information and updates can be found at masoncontractors.org.

What’s big, orange, and partially round?

If you guessed a pumpkin, you’re right.  It is almost Halloween, of course!

But the answer I was looking for was a Mud Hog, one of the many fabulous creations by EZG Manufacturing.  Read below on how these bad boys can help you out.

 MH12- Mud Hog

MH12- Mud Hog

At a time when everyone is scrambling to meet the requirements of the recently updated OSHA silica regulations, many are still asking what is supposed to happen with the mixing stations.  OSHA conveniently (or not-so-conveniently) left this out of Table 1.  Because of this, there’s no guidance of what is to be done here. 

So, what’s a contractor to do?

  • Pause for a minute before agreeing to use respirators (N95 most likely).  There’s a chance the General Contractor will assume this is what should be done but this opens a whole can of worms (and medical exams, fit testing, and paperwork) that you probably don’t want to do unless absolutely necessary (note: that there are some activities within Table 1 that may require it). 
  • Determine how you’re mixing your mortar.  Are you:
    • Using a silo system with pre-mixed mortar
    • Using pre-mixed mortar in smaller, most likely in 80 lb, bags
    • Batching (field mixing) everything
  • Check with your supplier or masonry association to see if you’ve got any access to objective data to show you’re under the limit. 
    • If you’re buying pre-mixed mortar, you may be able to get testing that is similar to what you’re doing from your suppliers.  This will likely need to be in the same general region as you are working or the mix design and conditions could be different, causing OSHA to not accept it as objective data.
    • Check with your local or state association to see if there’s any objective testing available for either pre-mixed or batching. 
    • If you can’t get objective data that works for the way you’re mixing, you can perform testing of your own but be careful to follow all steps and requirements for testing, including posting results, allowing employee representatives, etc.
  • If you’re over the PEL, you’ll need to determine what respirator your employees need to wear and follow the guidelines of the respiratory protection standards.
  • Stay tuned in to MCAA and with your suppliers. 
    • Manufactures, like EZG, are actively working to develop solutions to help contractors keep working, despite these new and challenging requirements.  
    • If you have ideas on creating better ways to handle these issues, partner with your manufacturers or suppliers to develop these solutions, when possible.

Regardless of whether you have the data to show you are under the PEL or not, if you’re making a big cloud of dust at your mixing station, you could still be a target of OSHA and/or the General Contractor’s safety person. 

Why does that matter?

  • Both groups can (and probably will) stop work until you can prove otherwise. 
    • If your mixing station shuts down, you’re not going to be laying units for much longer. 
    • It could take you a bit to find the necessary paperwork- so the easier access your crews have to all documentation, the better.
  • If OSHA finds one area that they see a lot of dust, they will probably look at every other area that there is potential dust.  Ask yourself the following:
    • How confident are you that your team is following everything in the regulation? 
    • Do you have paperwork for every other potential silica-producing activity? 
    • Is your respiratory protection plan up to date and does your crew know about it?
    • Is your SDS/HAZCOM all up to date and does your crew know about it?
    • Has your crew all been trained on silica and do you have proof?
    • Does your crew know who your competent person?
  • If there’s enough dust, OSHA may decide to do their own air monitoring and, even if you have objective data, you may be stuck with the test results that they do.
    • See OSHA’s memo for the Flowcharts they use to determine whether air sampling is necessary or not.

 

The big question is- how do I reduce the dust at the mixing station? 

By now you might be wondering why I led this story with the Mud Hog.  This is where the EZ Grout products come in- reducing the dust at the mixing station.  There’s a few great options, coupled with work practices, that can help you to prevent the dust that blows around like a big red flag:

Like any other dust control system- whether wet or vacuum- it is dependent upon the person operating it to be trained and use it correctly.  Running the mixer a few rotations with water before they open the grate to check the mix is necessary to avoid dust.  This may seem like common sense, but mud men are used to seeing their mix so there will be a learning curve.

 EZG Mud Hogs Grate Covers

EZG Mud Hogs Grate Covers

Spec Rents is a proud distributor of EZG Manufacturing products, including the above-mentioned mixers.  Like other products we carry, we know that these products stand the test of time. 

Less downtime = more units in the wall. 

Whether it’s less breakdowns or fewer arguments with the General Contractor’s safety guy about a cloud of dust at the mixing station- the above EZG products will make you more productive.  That’s something we all need.  Check out our Silica Solutions product page for more info or contact us if we can help you in any way to navigate this regulation.

Post by:  Elizabeth "Liz" Graves, Sales Manager at Spec Rents, LLC.  Contact Liz at lizg@specrents.com

Voluntary Respiratory Protection

With the updated silica regulation in effect, there are still a lot of questions out there.  I'm asked all the time, "If my guys are not required to wear a respirator, can they still wear a dust mask if they want to without having to do fit testing and medical testing?"

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3M 8210 N95 Respirator

And I never have a straight answer for that.  Here's why:

  • Are employees wearing a dust mask or a respirator?  Because there's a difference.
    • A N95, usually referred to as a "two-strap dust mask" is actually a respirator.
    • Usually dust masks have one strap.
    • A dust mask is not NIOSH approved.
  • What are the employees doing?  Make sure that what they're doing really doesn't require them to wear one. 
    • If you're following Table 1 and it requires the employee to wear a dust mask, then you had better be requiring them to wear one.  See below. 
    • If you're not following Table 1, do you have the data to show that they are under the PEL and don't need one? 
      • For example, if you're mixing mud, you might be able to get this from your suppliers (I know Amerimix and Spec Mix both have some objective data they can share with you).
      • Or, if you've done your own testing that shows you're under the PEL for specific tasks, this should be sufficient.
  • If you're sure they are doing a task that they don't need a mask for but they still want to wear one, they can. But there are a few considerations:
    • They still should know how to use it. For example:
      • If it's a N95, it is a "disposable respirator" that should be disposed of after use or when it becomes damaged or soiled.
      • If it's a N95, you can't clean or disinfect it.
    • The employer must ensure that use of the respirator follows these requirements:
      • It must be clean- not dirty or contaminated (safest option is to give each employee a new one daily or more often if necessary)
      • It will not interfere with employee's ability to work safely (this could mean that it interferes with another piece of PPE or limits their vision).
      • See a letter of interpretation from OSHA about respiratory protection dated November 22, 2011 for more information about voluntary use of respirators. 
    • The employer must provide the information in Appendix D to each voluntary wearer.
      • Download Appendix D in English and Spanish
      • I recommend having employees acknowledge receipt of Appendix D. 
        • The perfect place for this is in your new employee packet. 
        • For those already employed, a "tool box talk" could allow employees a time to complete and sign acknowledgement forms during silica training.
    • Make sure that you have trained your employees the difference between when they are required and not required to wear a respirator. 
    • Make sure they know they are wearing them voluntarily if not required.  
      • OSHA will likely ask any employee wearing a respirator if they have been fit tested and gone through a medical examination, along with whether they know about your respiratory protection program. 

REMEMBER:  There are likely still some tasks in Table 1 that require use of a respirator unless you have objective data or have done testing that shows the task performed is under the limit.  A few common ones for masonry are:

  • Using a wet handheld power saw (any blade diameter) 
    • APF 10:  Outside for more than 4 hours
    • APF 10:  Inside, no matter how long
  • Using a handheld grinder for mortar removal (i.e. tuckpointing) with dust collection system.  See Back to the Grind:  Using Grinders according to Table 1 for more information about grinders.
    • APF 10: Outside or Inside for 4 or less hours
    • APF 25:  Outside or Inside for 4 or more hours

NOTE:  this is NOT all-inclusivelist

  Table 1:  Handheld grinders for mortar removal (i.e., tuckpointing)

Table 1:  Handheld grinders for mortar removal (i.e., tuckpointing)

Thank you to Brandon Boyd, of Salus Consulting Services, who presented to the Associated Masonry Contractors of Houston last week about the new regulations.  Brandon is a great resource should you need help adjusting to these requirements.  His company focuses on helping companies achieve safe, quality production.  You can contact Brandon at bboyd@salusconsultingservices.com or visit www.salusconsultingservices.com.

If you have questions, or if Spec Rents can help you in any way, please contact us.  Check out our silica solutions for additional information.

Post by:  Elizabeth "Liz" Graves, Sales Manager at Spec Rents, LLC.  Contact Liz at lizg@specrents.com

Today's the Day- Silica: What you need to be ready if OSHA shows up

The day all of us in the construction industry have been dreading (and holding would go away) is here today. There's no date extension.  Nothing has been updated in the regulation despite the many efforts from the MCAA and the construction industry to work with the DOL to find a way to make the regulation more practical.

On a positive note, we did see yesterday a memo from OSHA stating that they would not be issuing fines to contractors that are showing efforts to comply. They have been tasked with helping contractors to comply.


OSHA will assist employers who are making good faith efforts to meet the new requirements to assure understanding and compliance.

If, upon inspection, it appears an employer is not making any efforts to comply, OSHA’s inspection will not only include collection of exposure air monitoring performed in accordance with Agency procedures, but those employers may also be considered for citation.
— Memorandum: Launch of Enforcement of the Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction Standard, 29 CFR § 1926.1153

What does this mean and what can you do to ensure that you're on the road to complete compliance?

  • Establish your competent person and make sure they know what is required to be compliant. MCAA is still holding Train the Trainer classes since there are still a lot of companies that haven't completed the necessary training. Sign up here.
  • Have your written silica exposure plans in place and share them with your teams. MCAA members can build their programs here. Your employees need to know how to access these. We can help you with this process if you need help with specific language.
  • Train your employees or at least have the training scheduled to do so. As stated above, having an in-house trainer will allow you to train both your competent person(s) and your employees. Make sure the training includes the written plans, who the competent person is, and what the new requirements are, along with all other requirements. OSHA will likely be asking folks if they've been trained, who their competent person is, and if they know about the silica plan.
  • At least be cutting wet. Dry cutting is going to make a ton of dust and shows that you're not even trying to meet the regulations.
  • Be considering what additional equipment you need- most likely a dust collection system that will work with a grinder (for tuck pointing and small cuts) and drills if you're in masonry. You can contact us or your tool rep for help with what is necessary and can either fall in Table 1 or have objective data that proves the complete system is under the PEL for the task you're performing.
  • If you're a business owner or leader in your company, you need to know the regulation. Don't rely solely on your team to make sure it happens. There's a lot of misunderstanding of the requirements. You could easily be doing the wrong thing, even doing more than you need to in some cases.

Download our Silica by the Numbers info-graphic for the main points you need to know. Feel free to contact our team if we can help you with anything.  As the construction industry, we're all in this together to keep this from bogging down our production and profitability.

Post by:  Elizabeth "Liz" Graves, Sales Manager at Spec Rents, LLC.  Contact Liz at lizg@specrents.com