As of June 23, 2018, all companies that employ workers in the general construction and maritime industries must comply with OSHA’s new silica dust safety standards. Failure to comply with these regulations could lead to inspections and substantial fines as well as the closing of job sites that are in violation of the new standards. Of course, nobody wants to have their business affected by non-compliance with OSHA standards, as it’s not only a financial burden but also a potential blow to their reputation. With that said, here are some tips you can use to stay in compliance with OSHA’s silica dust safety rules:
Leaving surplus dust to gather on the ground is never a good idea because eventually it will be swept up into the air by a breeze or the footsteps of a worker. Thus, it’s best to make it a general rule for employees to clean up any dust they generate using a filtered wet-dry vacuum. For example, the wet dry vacuum from Dustless Tools is known for its ability to pick up ash, dirt, dust, and other fine particles without releasing any dust back into the air.
Most of the silica dust generated at a construction site comes from the action of sawing, crushing, or abrading concrete, ceramics, or steel materials that contain silica. A saw-mounted vacuum shroud like the DustBuddie is capable of capturing about 90% of the dust that is generated by a reciprocal saw before it spreads into the surrounding air. Thus, it makes sense to install one of these onto every saw that is used for flatwork, in order to drastically reduce the amount of silica dust that is being put into the air at your job sites.
Atomized mist suppression machines can be aimed in the general direction of a dusty work area to capture airborne dust and weigh it down to the ground via moisture particles. These machines are known to be effective at reducing the levels of airborne silica dust, as well as other floating particulates that could be harmful to human health and mechanical equipment. An atomized misting machine is something that should be owned by any company that regularly performs activities which generate copious amounts of silica dust. However, it’s still best to heed the advice in tip #1 and clean up floor dust after every shift, as any dust that is brought to the ground by the misting machine will become airborne again when it dries.
If OSHA ever comes to inspect one of your job sites, they will start by requesting any documentation that you have related to workplace safety, which includes any readings and records you have for airborne silica levels. Having this information handy could help you avoid a lengthy and stressful inspection and it will also give you the peace of mind of knowing that you’re already in compliance. You can use the OSHA-recommended silica e-tool to measure airborne levels. This is essentially a device that one of your employees will wear as they move throughout the work area during an eight-hour shift. If the readings are higher than 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air, then you could be in violation of OSHA’s new silica dust safety standards.
If you’re struggling to stay below the suggested limits for airborne silica levels, you could begin your compliance efforts by creating a full checklist of activities that are generating silica dust on your job sites. Once you’ve done that, you’ll know which processes need to be refined or cleaned up to reduce the levels going forward. As a rule of thumb, a silica dust-generating activity is any motion or procedure that involves cutting, sawing, demolishing, crushing, abrading, transporting or loading/unloading materials that contain silica such as cement, steel, and composite ceramics.
Now that you have an idea of how silica dust is generated, how much is acceptable, and how you can start reducing levels on your job sites, it’s time to create a comprehensive plan to control dust on every shift. Between saw-mounted vacuum shrouds, atomized mist suppression systems, wet processes, and dustless wet/dry vacuums, you should have no problem keeping the production and spread of dust to a minimum.
The maximum amount that OSHA can fine a company for a single violation is $12,675. However, it’s possible to be fined for multiple violations on a single construction site. Overall, a construction company or contractor can be charged more than $126,000 in fines on a single site and that amount will continue to compound every day that the fine is left unpaid.