A year ago, OSHA introduced a new rule to protect construction workers from the potential dangers of airborne crystalline silica on job sites. With the deadline for compliance approaching next week on June 23, 2017, it’s important for construction firms to have a clear plan in place for how they will remain compliant to the new standard.
The OSHA standards establish a new permissible exposure limit (PEL) for workers, and include other steps to promote health and safety when working in environments where exposure to silica can occur.
Crystalline Silica is a natural material classified as a human lung carcinogen. It is found in stone, concrete, drywall, brick, mortar, and other construction materials. When airborne, silica can be inhaled and penetrate deep into the lungs. Diseases linked to overexposure to silica include silicosis, chronic bronchitis, kidney disease, lung cancer and others.
OSHA offers two suggested methods for companies to be in compliance with the rule.
- Dust control. Companies can use wet saws to prevent dust from getting into the air, or ventilation measures such as vacuums to remove silica dust quickly. Workers can also be required to wear respirators, depending on the length of time they will be working with the silica-containing material and whether or not other dust control measures are in place.
- Measurement and tracking. Companies that cannot effectively employ dust control methods across all projects must track workers exposure to silica. The OSHA ruling limits workers to 30 days of exposure in a 365-day period when using a respirator without other dust control methods.
The Challenge of Compliance
If you call any large construction company, they will all be well aware of the OSHA ruling and are actively working on solutions to remain in compliance. But that process is more difficult than it seems.
On any number of jobs, there will be a wide variety of factors that affect exposure. Was the worker inside or outside? Were they wearing a respirator? Were they working with a saw, a drill, or a jackhammer? Because of the variety of work sites and tasks, most companies need a solution that is a combination of dust control, measurement and tracking.
But wait, there's more.
There’s also an educational component. For workers, there could be a perceived downside to limited silica exposure in that it may limit their overall work hours. Companies must be sure workers understand the risks of exposure to crystalline silica and what the company is doing to ensure workers are not negatively impacted from a health or economic perspective.
We recently spoke with Jake Schillaci, Director of Field Applications at BL Harbert International, on how they are managing silica exposure on their job sites. “The solution requires education, tracking and notifications” he said, noting the importance of a multi-faceted approach.
Today, BL Harbert’s method for tracking exposure is a safety form that foremen fill out for their crew. But they’re looking to move toward a more automated system where notifications are pushed out to the appropriate crew members in a timely manner.
They also see an advantage in tying safety reporting to timekeeping, because timekeeping is already a daily activity for their crew. Making safety reporting a requirement of a completed time card boosts the incentive to report exposure accurately and ensures the most up-to-date company records.
New Shift Extras Feature in Development
At Rhumbix, we’re working on our own solution to help foremen track exposure to silica as part of our mobile timekeeping app. A feature called Shift Extras is currently in development and will give foremen the ability to select and tag specific hours with additional information they need to communicate to project managers, payroll, or other back office functions.
Anything above hours and cost codes can be captured using Shift Extras, including exposure to silica. Foremen will be able to tag the specific number of hours during a shift where a worker was doing silica work, and then make that data available for export to health and safety tracking systems. Our goal is to release the Shift Extras feature by end of June, coinciding with the compliance deadline for companies to meet OSHA’s new standards.
We’ve Been Here Before
The construction industry is no stranger to adopting new regulations and compliance, and while the silica standards may feel overwhelming, we’re confident that companies will come up with creative and innovative methods for keeping their workers safe and healthy.
To learn more about Shift Extras or how Rhumbix can help you meet compliance requirements, we invite you to contact our Sales team for a no-hassle conversation. And if it's a right fit, then a Rhumbix Demo may be the next appropriate step.