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April 02, 2014
Company cited for exposing workers to silica: How to avoid making the same mistakes

OSHA recently cited a Wisconsin foundry for exposing workers to respirable crystalline silica. What did this employer do wrong, and how can you avoid similar citations? Keep reading to find out.

According to OSHA, the employer failed to evaluate worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust—a violation the company had been previously cited for in 2012. Inhalation of silica particles can lead to the development of disabling diseases, such as silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, and lung cancer.

OSHA cited the company with one repeat violation for the silica hazard, in addition to serious violations for improper ladder caging and failure to provide proper eye protection. Proposed penalties total $50,600.

In 2013, OSHA proposed a rule to update the silica standard. The proposed revisions would reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air in all industries and introduce requirements for engineering controls, training, medical surveillance, and other measures where workers are exposed to silica. OSHA estimates that the rule will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually. Hearings on the proposed rule are currently under way and will conclude on April 4.

The most severe exposures to crystalline silica typically result from sandblasting, cement manufacturing, asphalt pavement manufacturing, and foundry activities. Workers involved in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), construction, and mining are also often exposed to silica.

If your workers are exposed to crystalline silica, here are some tips for keeping them safe:

  • Use wet sawing or wet drilling methods when working with silica-containing materials.
  • Require workers to shower and change into clean clothes before leaving a worksite where they are exposed to silica.
  • Whenever possible, use engineering controls to eliminate the hazard. You might consider finding alternatives to materials that contain silica, using local exhaust ventilation, or using containment methods where workers could be exposed to silica.
  • Restrict access to areas where silica dust is generated and limit the exposure time of workers who must be in those areas.
  • If silica exposure cannot be sufficiently reduced through a combination of engineering and work practice controls, provide appropriate respiratory protection to workers and ensure that they use it properly.

For more information on silica exposure and OSHA’s proposed rule, refer to BLR’s Silica Exposure Resource Center.

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