This summer, OSHA’s most comprehensive standard for the construction industry in more than 20 years will go 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.
Ceco Concrete Construction is ready for the upcoming changes, which will likely affect the industry as significantly as OSHA’s fall protection rule of 1995. And 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. Ceco 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.
Effective June 23, the Crystalline Silica Rule offers three methods for employers to protect its employees and demonstrate compliance. One of these methods is known as Table 1, a table of pre-defined 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, Ceco worked in conjunction with industry tool manufacturers to identify nine tasks in Table 1 that could be performed on any Ceco project as part of Ceco’s or its subcontractors’ scope of work. Ceco has incorporated these tasks into a site silica-control plan that will be part of Ceco’s Formwork and Frame Safety Plan documents. In addition, safety personnel, working with local offices, have begun talking with their 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 for protecting employees on jobsites in the future. In the past, respirators may have been over-prescribed 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. Ceco began training its managers and superintendents on the silica health hazards and control methods in February. New employees hired after March 1, 2017 will receive training as part of the new employee orientation process. Competent person training of field supervisors will begin in March and will include direct training of supervisors and employees in correct tool use, Table 1 tasks, and Medical Surveillance requirements. Existing employees will begin training starting in April, via use of special weekly toolbox safety meetings. Training will be ongoing, and topics will address what silica is, what the hazards are and the protective measures the company will employ.
As the new Crystalline Silica Rule goes into effect, Ceco Concrete is prepared to lead our workforce into this new era of jobsite protection. Protecting our employees has always been our highest priority. We’re ready to meet the requirements and — 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.