Highlights from a presentation by Adele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP
Ms. Abrams is an attorney, Certified Mine Safety Professional and trainer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The most common form of crystalline silica is quartz. Silica is found in virtually all construction materials except wood and rubber, including: brick, block, concrete and mortar, slate, dimensional stone (granite, sandstone), engineered stone products (countertops etc.), stone aggregate, tile, asphalt filler, roofing granules, plastic composites, soils, wallboard joint compounds, paint, plaster, caulking and putty.
Tiny particles of silica (known as “respirable” particles) can travel deep into workers’ lungs and cause silicosis, lung cancer, other potentially debilitating respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as kidney disease and auto-immune disorders.
In most cases, these diseases occur after years of exposure. Silicosis, for example, has up to a 20 year latency period, so lawsuits can be brought many years after exposure. Workers compensation cases are increasing, and OSHA citations now carry a maximum penalty of $132,598 per affected worker.
OSHA requires employers to limit workers’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica and to take appropriate steps to protect workers whose exposure reaches certain thresholds. Medical surveillance and a Written Exposure Control Plan (WECP) may be required, in addition to use of respiratory protective equipment. We recommend beginning Medical Surveillance when you bring a worker on board, so you have baseline data.
For professional workers—like architects and engineers—who spend limited amounts of time at construction sites, exposure to silica should be treated like exposure to other toxic substances such as asbestos. Meet with the general contractor and ask for their exposure plan, as guidance, but understand that you are responsible for knowing each of your own employees’ exposures, and if any exceed the “action level” of 25 ug/m3 for an eight-hour average, then these positions must be included in a WECP specific to your company and to the worksite.
For more information, consult Adele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP
Law Office of Adele L. Abrams PC 301-595-3520
For a Fact Sheet on the basics of OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction go to https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3681.pdf
These highlights from Ms. Abrams’ presentation represent her knowledge and considered recommendations, rather than those of Coleman & Erickson. Note that this is not a comprehensive summary of the law. Legal counsel should be consulted for questions on how these points apply to specific situations.