Silica Dust Exposure: How to Adhere to OSHA Guidelines

Silica Dust Exposure: How to Adhere to OSHA Guidelines

Everyday tasks at your construction site may expose you and your employees to harmful substances, like silica dust, that harm human health. OSHA has standards in place to protect construction workers from silica dust exposure — here are some steps you can take today to make sure your business is compliant and your employees are protected.

What Is Silica Dust?

Silica, also known as quartz, is a common mineral that can be found in the landscaping, rock, masonry, granite, soil, sand and concrete at job sites in the construction industries. Exposure can occur during regular tasks:

  • Using tools like handheld powered chipping tools, drills, grinders, masonry saws and jackhammers
  • Operating vehicle-mounted drilling rigs, crushing machines and milling
  • Using heavy equipment for demolition
  • Tunneling and other abrasive blasting jobs

When this mineral is drilled, ground or cut, it creates silica dust. The particles are invisible to the human eye and are respirable — they can be breathed into the lungs, creating scar tissue that impairs oxygen intake. Silica dust in the body can harm health even years after exposure, potentially causing conditions like:

  • Silicosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Kidney disease

Many of these conditions are incurable and may cause death, which is why following OSHA standards for silica dust exposure is essential for your crew's well-being.

Silica Dust OSHA Standards

OSHA regulations state that the exposure limit for silica dust is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air in an eight-hour shift. OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.1153 requires that employers stay within this limit by minimizing silica dust exposure and taking protective precautions.

Employers may use OSHA's control methods in Table 1 of the standard document that defines the applications when protective gear is and is not necessary. You can also measure your workers' exposure and use your own controls.

Whether you follow silica dust controls from OSHA or define your own, you must:

  • Create and implement an exposure control plan: Write a plan that lists the jobs where workers are exposed and identify protective methods for each.
  • Appoint a competent person: A competent person is a member of your team who must inspect the job sites, materials and equipment to ensure the control plan is being followed. They will identify existing and potential silica dust hazards and have the authority to take protective measures.
  • Restrict exposing practices: Limit your housekeeping practices which may cause exposure and start using safe alternatives instead.
  • Offer medical exams: Offer lung function tests, chest X-rays and other exams to your employees who spend more than 30 days a year wearing a respirator.
  • Train your employees: Educate your workers about the means, health effects and preventative measures of silica dust exposure.
  • Keep records: Keep diligent records of your employees' medical exams and exposures.

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