At this point, the OSHA silica rules are forthcoming, what should you be doing to prepare?

  • Read the OSHA Small Entity Guide. Initially it is daunting – 103 pages, but much of it is specific to tasks from Table 1 and the full rules are within it, as well. Plus, they have pictures!
  • Identify tasks which could have silica exposures silica-grinding
  • Train employees, identify your “competent person(s)” – my suggestion is: Superintendents/Project Managers
    • Warn those on your projects: NO VISIBLE DUST on any tasks (cutting, finishing, dry sweeping, etc.)
  • Document activities with airborne silica exposures below 25 ug/m3
  • Identify possible solutions for overexposures
    • Verify airborne levels with personal air sampling
  • Start a process to log the number of days with (any) exposure – >30 is inclusion into medical
  • Find a medical provider that can have medical screen performed & with a B reader

*Thanks Andrew for the photos*


I was recently forwarded an article on a gentleman who won a large sum of money ($8.75 million) for an asbestos related disease. There are many people getting these types of settlements for similar exposures.

However, what is interesting, is the attorneys argued the company knew about asbestos in 1965, but the exposure occurred in the 1970’s. Keep in mind, the asbestos rules at OSHA didn’t come out until the 1970s as well. So, exposure occurred before the regulations were in effect.

So, they knew of the airborne hazard, but continued to exposure workers before there was a rule. Does this sound like any modern day issue?   –hint– silica?!

Nowadays with the public being uber-aware of “potential” airborne hazards (mold?), with information so readily available, with OSHA rules outdated (annotated Z1 tables), and others publishing health standards like ACGIH,….the lesson is: protect your employees.

I don’t think we should be arguing about the OSHA rules. Let’s use available information and science. “More Than Just A Number” (article published by AIHA, May 24, 2016).

asbestos snow

OSHA has recently announced the final time frame for the proposed silica rule. February 1, 2015 is their anticipated rule promulgation. However, we will see if anyone protests this new information, and if the date for final rule “sticks”.

AIHA broke the news (at least to me) and you can see their summary here. If this is the first you’ve heard about this new rule, then it’s time to do some research, and I might recommend starting here. There are quite a few new requirements, including a lower permissible exposure limit (PEL).

dust exposure

This hazard is somewhat difficult to understand. There are number of reasons for the confusion, but the easiest way to explain it is to realize that:


Diesel exhaust = Diesel particulate matter (DPM) = lots of different chemicals & particulates

AND: There is not a perfect way to measure the exact exposure.

The Long Story:

The term ‘diesel particulates‘ includes the following (not a comprehensive list):

  • elemental carbon (the most reliable method for testing occupational exposure to exhaust, Birch & Cary 1996)
  • organic carbon
  • carbon monoxide (CO)
  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • hydrocarbons (PAH)
  • formaldehyde
  • oxides of sulfur & nitrogen

You can quickly see that these are very different substances, and to make it more confusing, you can change the amounts by:

  • the fuel (on road/off, low emission fuel, biodiesel)
  • the motor type
  • the tuning of the motor (& dynamic versus idle), new motor restrictions
  • scrubbers, etc.

In addition, there are not any well-established occupational exposure limits specifically for diesel exhaust. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified “whole diesel engine exhaust” as a carcinogen (cancer causing), so there is reason for concern. Most of the research and rules are in the mining industry, which uses a lot of diesel equipment and the exhaust really has no where to go.

  • OSHA = none, but they have a hazard bulletin, and of course, some of the components have exposure limits
  • MSHA = 0.4 mg/m3 for total hydrocarbons and 0.3 mg/m3 for elemental carbon
  • Canada (CANMET) for respirable combustible dust (66% of respirable dust in mines is from diesel exhaust) = 1.5 mg/m3
  • ACGIH = none (for now)
    • 1995 proposed 0.15 mg/m3 (for diesel particulate matter)
    • 1996 proposed lowering it to 0.05 mg/m3 (for diesel particulate matter)
    • 2001 proposed a different limit of 0.02 mg/m3,
      • but for elemental carbon and
      • said it was a suspected carcinogen
    • 2003 withdrew proposed limit- citing not enough scientific information

Bottom line:

  • control the exhaust & where it goes (better fuel, better mechanical, scrubbers, ventilation).
  • most exposures to diesel are below the (now retracted) ACGIH TLV of 0.02 mg/m3 (or 20 ug/m3) (Seshagiri & Burton, 2003).
  • If you have a confined area, unusual concerns, or a particularly stinky situation; measure for multiple parameters (CO, CO2, elemental carbon and maybe NOx, and SOx). Compare these to their respective limits and classify the exposure (describe the conditions)

I am ashamed I have not written on this topic yet. In fact, this issue is so close to me, it bewilders me why I never connected it to occupational exposures. It’s even a carcinogen, and I try to get as much of it as I can when it is around.

To summarize my personal examples:

  • My dad has skin cancer on his ears and annually has these removed.
  • My next door neighbor died in 2009 from skin cancer (metastasized). He was a county construction worker for 35+ years and was in the sun, with his shirt off. A LOT.

More recently:

There are some chemicals and foods, when taken/exposed, actually make you more sensitive to the suns UV exposure (aka: photosentisizer). A list can be found here. Some of them are:

  • foods: carrots, dill, clover, eggs
  • medicine: antibiotics, diuretics, high blood pressure
  • chemicals: coal tar (creosote), benzene, xylene
  • cosmetics

And, if you haven’t noticed, construction workers get a lot of sun exposure, especially in the summer. Don’t forget, welders can have high exposures, and our heavy highway (road paving) crews are exposed to coal tar pitch. We talk about heat stress, but we should talk about the long term effects of skin damage.

There are no specific OSHA regulations on UV exposure. However, there are some guidelines from the ACGIH. There might be an instance where we can work within our “hierarchy of controls” and and eliminate the exposure to the employee. However, with this hazard, rather than working on eliminating the hazard, I would recommend we provide PPE.

Do you provide sunscreen to your employees?

It is officially summer and construction road crews & roofing is in full swing. Some projects require the use and application of coal tar pitch. Not only is it stinky, it is is hazardous.

Here’s some info:

  • Uses
    • Roofing
    • Asphalt seal coating
    • Pharmaceutical treatment for psoriasis (scalp/skin condition)
    • Graphite industry (in the production of graphite)
  • General
    • Coal tar pitch is actually a make-up of a bunch of different substances (maybe even 10,000 of them)
    • Contains lots of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other chemicals including: benzene, pyrene, benzo(a)pyrene, phenanthrene, anthracene
  • Exposure
    • can be exposed by inhalation, ingestion (is this likely?), or exposure to skin, eyes
    • considered a carcinogen if the product contains more than 5% of coal tar
    • cancers include: skin, scrotal, lungs, bladder, kidney & digestive
    • increases your sensitivity to sunlight (easier to sunburn)
  • Safety
    • Pick a sealant/coating that does not contain coal tar. A list of some can be found here.
    • Avoid inhalation & skin/eye contact
    • Train your employees. A sample safety SDS (MSDS) can be found here.
    • Wear the correct PPE.
    • Air sample to determine exposures. OSHA has a method (58).
  • Resources


This question gets asked a lot, and in many different ways. Such as:asbestos iron

  • Will I get hurt if I touch asbestos? (aka: How long can I be exposed?)
  • What if I have done siding removal/cutting pipe/removed TSI (etc) on an asbestos containing product, am I safe?
  • If I am only doing going to do touch asbestos for 20 minutes (or ___ time), will I still be in compliance?
  • I am disturbing less than 3 square feet of asbestos, I can do this legally, right?

The answer is:   it depends.

Or, an alternative answer: if you think you are disturbing asbestos; you’d better verify (by performing an air sample).

Nowadays there is no excuse for exposing employees, tenants, neighbors to asbestos. And, really, if you are working with asbestos, you need to be extra diligent to inform everyone about the hazard. The worst situation isn’t from a single exposure to asbestos, or an OSHA fine. The worst situation is this:  when you don’t pre-plan, and then verify your exposure levels. Because, someone will make up a worst case scenario, and at that point, you are already behind.



Hypothetically (and allegedly):demo1

  • You receive a project as a subcontractor.
  • You are verbally told no asbestos or lead onsite. Only that’s not true.
  • There is asbestos, and you, and multiple other subs, have disturbed it.
  • The prime contractor says, “oops”. Has the materials tested, and then blames the owner for not letting them know.
  • OSHA is called and citations are issued to the owner and GC for not testing and telling people.
  • A year goes by and now both the owner and GC are being sued by 5 employees for $10,000,000 (yep $10 million, that’s the max BTW).
    • As a footnote: this incidentally is not a worker compensation case (yet) since they are not suing their employer (they are suing the GC and owner)

Even if the employees don’t win $10m, are you prepared for: the headache, loss of client-relationship, trust breaking? Here’s a similar hypothetical article about such a situation.

On the flip side, here are some positive things you can do:

  • get a written copy of the building survey (lead & asbestos) ALWAYS. (you might also ask for cadmium, radon, other possible hazardous substances)
  • Train your employees about asbestos prior to having to deal with it.
  • Give employees the power to “stop work” if they are suspicious of possible asbestos containing material (PACM).
  • When handing out a building survey to your subs, get their acknowledgment (in writing, of course)
  • Fight your OSHA citations. Go to your informal conference. Present your evidence and, at the very least, beg for forgiveness.

It’s not a secret. (previous article here) Formaldehyde is in many types of composite, pressboard, and multidensity wood products. The EPA is now proposing to limit the amount of formaldehyde that can be added to these types of products.

When you build a structure, these types of products can offgass small amounts of formaldehyde. Even though the total formaldehyde is far less than 1% of the total product by weight/volume (which means it may NOT be listed on the SDS/MSDS- clue: look for the Prop 65 label). This can add up. The EPA is proposing to regulate the amount of formaldehyde a product can off-gas, and provide 3rd party certification framework for regulating it . composite wood

Unfortunately, nowadays “GREEN” products/ or recycled goods can contain a lot of formaldehyde. (used in the process of making & adhering the different recycled materials together).

Expect some push back from industry. Even though it’s a known carcinogen, there is sure to be some push-back.

Chromium in it’s elevated valence state, called Chromium 6, or hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen and sensitizer. From a toxicological point of view, it has a really interesting exposure to disease path.

I’ve mentioned it before, but recently NIOSH reduced their suggested limit from 1.0 µg/m³ to 0.2 µg/m³ (80% reduction for you math wiz’es).  They base this on eye & skin irritation, respiratory damage & lung cancer. Yikes.

OSHA has listed their exposure limits, along with other’s recommended limits here.

The take-away from this reduction is the serious nature of Chromium 6. hex chrome cleaningIf you are dealing with this hazard, you should take more than just a little precaution. Even if your prior air monitoring data is below the Action & Exposure Limit, continue  to document and verify your employees are well below the regulatory & recommended limits. As you know, hexavalent chromium is a skin hazard and can be absorbed easily into your body. I would also suggest performing wipe samples (area & skin) & decontamination in areas where there is work activity with hexavalent chromium.

For most construction companies, investigate these areas:

  • welding (any stainless steel?) See this earllier post, also here.
    • And, OSHA has a new Fact sheet on welding & hexavalent chromium here.
    • Washington’s OSHA (L&I) has a great page on the hazards during welding here, including training videos. (so cool!)
  • hardfacing on equipment. See earlier post.
  • Bridge painting – (or painting with chromates) OSHA’s new safety bulletin is here.
  • Electroplating – OSHA’s safety bulletin is here.
  • Anytime you heat, or work with chromate painted surfaces.
  • Portland cement when working with it wet and on your skin. NIOSH has some information here. hint: Try adding ferrous sulfate to lower the Cr6.

And, if you don’t work in construction, but live in Garfield, NJ, you might have to pull your toenails out to prove you aren’t exposed to hexavalent chromium.

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