Launch Slideshow

Worried about Silica Hazards?

Worried about Silica Hazards?

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The recent release of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed silica standard is focusing attention on silica. But silica is not a new hazard. More than 70 years ago, the Secretary of Labor initiated a campaign to “Stop Silicosis,” stating: “Our job is one of applying techniques and principles to every known silica dust hazard in American industry. We know the methods of control – let us put them in practice.”

CPWR-The Center for Construction Research and Training’s research on worker exposure to silica dust began well before OSHA issued its proposed rule for public comment. Since the mid 90s, CPWR, along with safety and health professionals, government agencies, researchers, and industry stakeholders, including those in the masonry industry, have been actively taking steps to understand the hazard, identify control options, and protect workers. Today, as part of CPWR’s research-to-practice (r2p) initiative, the results of this work on silica have been translated into online tools and information that industry stakeholders can put into practice on construction sites.

To distribute this information CPWR developed the website – www.silica-safe.org. With input from masonry contractors and other stakeholders, this site is a one-stop, online resource for those who want to Work Safely with Silica. The website features both a history and the latest information on regulatory efforts, training materials, examples of “what’s working” in the field, research findings, news articles, and responses to frequently asked questions. The two important features of the website provide specific information and tools to help masonry and other contractors understand, identify, and control the hazard.

Central features designed with you in mind

The Know the Hazard section explains why silica is hazardous, the risk, and the health effects. The types of information contained here range from introductory information and videos to more detailed studies and resources for those who want to learn more. In this section, you will find information on:

  • How airborne crystalline silica affects the body;
  • The signs and symptoms of health conditions linked to silica exposure, and access to the Physician’s Alert, which helps ensure workers are properly diagnosed and treated;
  • Construction tasks and materials likely to generate dust containing silica; and
  • Actions contractors and workers can take to prevent silica exposures and related illnesses.

The other central feature, Create-A-Plan, is a unique, flexible online planning tool designed with direct input from contractors – including masonry contractors. As MCAA’s President advised in a recent special report on the proposed silica rule, “…as a construction employer, you should first evaluate your own jobsites, both to assure that you are protecting your employees against exposure to respirable crystalline silica and that you are complying with current OSHA requirements.”  This planning tool will help contractors – particularly small contractors -- do just that in three easy steps:

 Step 1 asks the question: Will you generate dust containing silica on the job?

To answer this question, you are provided with lists of common building materials that contain silica and dust generating tasks. You can select the materials you will be using and related tasks from these lists or fill in ones of your own – it is that simple.  Since a job may involve more than one type of material, and you may perform more than one task with each material chosen, you can select as many combinations as apply to your job. If you are not sure, there are four options available to help you determine if a material contains silica.

Step 2 asks the question:  How do you plan to control the dust?                                                                                                        

This step is automatically filled in with the material and task combinations you selected in Step 1, and for each a list of available equipment and control options is provided. You can select one or more equipment-control options from the lists or fill in ones of your own. To find commercially available examples, or learn more about how the controls work, simply click on the prompt “Click here for examples of commercially available equipment and controls.” In addition to providing manufacturer information and videos (if available), you will find impartial third-party information on the different types of equipment and controls. There is also space in this step to add information on how you plan to use the material(s) and equipment on your job.  If you are not sure how best to control the dust, this step offers three ways to find out, including how to find someone to perform air monitoring.

Step 3 is automatically filled in with your entries from Steps 1 and 2. This step includes space for other elements of a comprehensive silica control plan. There is space to fill in your company’s name, the jobsite and work description, the “competent person,” the types of training workers will receive, housekeeping activities, medical surveillance, steps to protect by-standers, and other actions you plan to take to work safely. For each element, there is a “learn more” option that provides additional information on what could be included.

You do not need to complete every field in Step 3 to generate a final plan, and at each step you can easily go back and make changes.  When you are done, just click Continue to generate your plan. As one contractor noted, an added benefit is that the plan generated can be used as a job-specific toolbox talk.

Once your plan is finished, you can print, email, and/or save it as a PDF. Another useful web site feature allows you to confidentially save your plans so that they can be retrieved, edited and used at a later date.

To help users, CPWR has prepared a webinar available posted online at Occupational Safety and Health. The webinar provides a guided tour through the three step program.

Work Safely with Silica is a work in progress. Please share content and suggestions for the website by emailing silica@cpwr.com. Your input will help protect workers everywhere and ensure that we all Work Safely With Silica.

Research and information for this article was prepared by CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training. This research was made possible by a cooperative agreement with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH (OH009762). The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIOSH.