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OSHA Silica Rule: Requirements for Written Exposure Control Plan

Wednesday, December 7, 2016
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Written plans must describe:

  • All tasks that may involve exposure to silica;
  • For each task, the specific methods used to limit silica exposure; and
  • General housekeeping measures used to limit silica exposure.

Construction employers must also describe methods for restricting access to high-exposure areas and name a competent person.

Compliance deadlines
  • Construction employers must comply with the final rule by June 23, 2017.
  • General industry and maritime employers must comply with the final rule by June 23, 2018.

Employers in the general, maritime and construction industries must establish and implement a plan for controlling workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica (silica) under a final rule issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on March 25, 2016. The rule also requires employers to record portions of their plans in a written document, which must be kept readily available for review by employees and OSHA.
While employers are afforded some flexibility to tailor their exposure control plans to their particular worksites, each employer’s written silica exposure control document must include certain elements to comply with the rule. These elements are designed to ensure that silica hazards are consistently controlled in the workplace and that appropriate employee protections are applied when needed.

Drafting the written exposure control plan can be a beneficial first step toward full compliance with the rule, and the minimum requirements outlined in this document may provide a basic framework for understanding other portions of the rule.  

Links And Resources

OSHA provides the full text of the final rule’s separate standards for construction employers and for employers in the general and maritime industries. These standards may be found through the following links:    

Silica Rule overview

OSHA’s final rule includes two new standards—one for construction and the other for the general and maritime industries—to protect workers from silica exposure. The rule is effective June 23, 2016, but employers have either one or two years to comply, depending on their industry.  
The two standards are similar and provide comparable protections for workers, but OSHA issued them separately to account for differences in work activities, anticipated exposure levels and other conditions unique to each industry.
Both standards dramatically reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 µg/m3) as an eight-hour time-weighted average and require employers to implement specific measures to protect workers. The required measures include engineering controls, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication and recordkeeping.
In addition, employers must document many of these measures in a written exposure control plan. The final rule allows employers to tailor their written exposure control plans to their particular worksites, but all plans must include the minimum requirements outlined below.

Minimum Requirements for written exposure control plans

Under the final rule, an employer’s written exposure control plan must contain at least the following elements:

  • A description of tasks that may involve exposure to silica dust;
  • A description of the engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protection used to limit employee exposure to silica dust for each task; and
  • A description of the housekeeping measures used to limit employee exposure to silica dust.

Construction employers must also include:

  • A description of the procedures used to restrict access to work areas when necessary and to minimize the number of employees exposed to silica and their level of exposure, including exposures generated by other employers or sole proprietors; and
  • The name of a designated, competent person who will make frequent and regular inspections of job sites, materials and equipment to implement the written exposure control plan.

All employers must review and evaluate the effectiveness of their written exposure control plans at least annually and update it as necessary. The written plan must also be readily available to employees and OSHA.

Describing TAsks that May Involve Silica exposure

The first section of an employer’s written plan must identify all tasks employees perform that could possibly result in any exposure to silica. This includes every task that may contribute to exposure, even if the potential exposure level would be well below the PEL.
This section of the written plan may also include any workplace factors that could affect potential exposures for each task. For example, it could describe: 

  • The types of silica-containing materials handled in each task (such as concrete or tile);
  • Whether and how any weather conditions (such as wind and humidity) or soil compositions (such as clay versus rock) could affect exposure levels for each task; and
  • The location of each task (such as whether the task is performed in an enclosed space).

The purpose of this task-description requirement is to help ensure that appropriate employee protections, as required by the final rule, are applied when needed. As an example, if a construction worker uses a walk-behind saw with an integrated water delivery system, the rule indicates that he or she is required to wear a respirator only if the equipment is used indoors or in an enclosed area. Therefore, if a certain task involving the use of this equipment is always performed indoors at a particular workplace, the employer’s written plan should include this information as an indication that employees must always wear respirators when performing the task.   

Describing exposure control methods for each task

The final rule includes several requirements for the use of engineering controls and workplace practices to keep employee exposure levels at or below the new PEL. This means that employers may not rely on respirators as the sole means of controlling employees’ exposure. Employers must make consistent efforts to keep silica out of the air, and their written plans must describe these efforts. 
Thus, the second section of a written plan should describe the specific types of engineering controls the employer uses for each task that could involve silica exposure. These controls may include ventilation and vacuuming systems, processes for watering down workplace operations and any other means of keeping silica out of the air. For example, an employer may require the use of a dust collector with manufacturer’s recommended air flow and a filter with 99 percent efficiency for a particular task. The written plan should also include effective work practices for using these systems, such as instructions for positioning a local exhaust or for directing water streams over a source of potential silica exposure.
Similarly, if an employer owns a particular type of equipment that is repeatedly used at different job sites, its written plan could include the manufacturer’s instructions for operating the equipment’s dust controls. As an example, an employer whose employees use a Stihl® Model TS 410 saw to cut concrete could consult the user’s manual, and list or summarize the instructions in this section of its written plan. The box below provides sample language the employer might use.  
Other information employers should incorporate into this section of their written plans includes:

    • Specifications for any required respiratory protection (such as a respirator with an assigned protection factor (APF) of 10);
    • Signs that controls may not be working effectively (for example, if dust is visible or no water is delivered to a blade); and
    • Procedures for verifying that controls are functioning effectively (for example, pressure checks on local exhaust ventilation and schedules for conducting maintenance checks).
    Example (1) Before using a Stihl® Model TS 410 saw for cutting concrete, the employee must examine the diamond cutting wheel for signs of excessive wear, damage or “built-up edges,” such as a pale, gray deposit on the top of the diamond segments that clogs and blunts them. (2) While cutting, the employee must use a water flow rate no less than 0.6 liters (20 fluid ounces) per minute, stop and rinse the screen on the water connection if no or too little water is delivered while cutting, and not cut into the ballast layer of road surfaces to avoid excessive wear on the cutting wheel. (3) Employees must wear a respirator with an APF of 10 when using this saw outdoors for more than four hours a day.

Describing housekeeping measures

Under the final rule, certain activities, such as dry sweeping, dry brushing and using compressed air, are generally prohibited in areas where they may generate airborne silica. Employers must instead use wet sweeping, filtered vacuuming and other appropriate cleaning methods to minimize airborne silica. However, the rule provides some flexibility to use the otherwise prohibited dry methods where no other feasible methods are available.
Thus, in the third section of a written plan, employers must describe both the cleaning methods they use and the protection that may be necessary to limit exposure while employees perform the housekeeping tasks. Specifically, employers should include descriptions of:

  • Cleaning methods the employer permits and prohibits in order to minimize the generation of airborne silica;
  • Special instructions for cleaning methods (for example, using local exhaust ventilation if compressed air must be used);
  • Hygiene-related subjects (such as not using compressed air to clean clothing); and
  • Whether employees must wear a respirator or take any other special precautions while performing a particular housekeeping method.

CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYERS: Describing procedures to restrict employee access

Because the final rule requires employers in the general and maritime industries to demarcate specific areas for silica-generating tasks and to post warning signs at the entrances to those areas, the standard for those industries does not require them to document how they protect employees who are not personally engaged in silica-generating tasks (bystanders). Construction employers, however, must include information about this in an additional section of their written plans.
Construction employers must restrict bystander access to any area in which respirator use is required under Table 1 of the final rule or in which an exposure assessment reveals that silica exposures are above PEL. The final rule permits each construction employer to address unique worksite scenarios when determining how to accomplish these restrictions. Common methods include demarcation, notifying or briefing employees and scheduling high-exposure tasks when others are not around. Whatever the chosen procedures, construction employers must describe them in detail in this section of the written plan. 

CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYERS: NAMING A COMPETENT PERSON

Construction employers must designate a competent person who has the knowledge and ability necessary to fulfill all the responsibilities outlined in the written plan. The final rule defines “competent person” as an individual who is capable of identifying existing and foreseeable silica hazards in the workplace and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate or minimize them. Specifically, the competent person’s responsibilities include identifying any situations in which bystanders could be exposed to silica and taking action to notify them (or restrict their access to the hazardous areas).  The competent person is also responsible for recognizing and evaluating situations where overexposure may be occurring, evaluating the exposure potential and making initial recommendations on how to control that exposure.
The rule does not specify what information regarding a competent person must be included in a written plan, but employers should consider including both the person’s name and his or her contact information.    

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS For the written plan

Employers are free to address more than the minimum requirements in their written plans. Thus, general and maritime industries employers always have the option of describing access-limitation methods and naming a competent person in their written plans, even though the rule only requires construction employers to include that information.
In addition, all employers may include information about how they comply with any other portions of the rule. Additional topics employers may consider addressing in their written plans include:

  • Medical surveillance plans for each employee who is required to use a respirator for 30 or more days per year;
  • Hazard communication and training programs to ensure employees can demonstrate knowledge and understanding of silica hazards and exposure control methods; and
  • Recordkeeping methods and schedules for air monitoring data and medical surveillance.

However, because the major purpose of a written exposure control plan is to ensure that employers consistently identify and control silica hazards in the workplace, employers should ensure that the written plan serves as a useful reference on how to adequately and consistently protect employees.

© 2016 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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