Federal OSHA

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*


There have been lots of new information available, so this post will just share new information on a few different subjects:

  • Silica rule:
    • At this point, it doesn’t appear that the silica rule will be legally blocked. So, now is the time to prepare for all of the coming changes. However, the new administration may have some influence.
    • Federal OSHA has (finally) published their Small Entity Guide (103 pages!) but, no doubt, this will be useful for many.
  • NIOSH Noise Control Contest
    • I encouraged people to submit their ideas…and then, I missed the deadline to submit.
    • However, the results are in.  And at least one of them seems like a decent one (I have my opinion, but will let you decide which one is your favorite)
    • Check their main page, Hear and Now, for a summary
  • I AM IH
    • Another contest!
    • AIHA is asking for a short documentary highlighting the people behind the industrial hygiene profession. Are you interesting? ’cause most IH’s arent… (ha)
  • Free Safety Videos- Health in Construction
    • This project has taken a massive amount of my time, and it is still not completed yet . However, below are the links to the videos for those of you looking for a sneak peek.  Please feel free to share…more materials,  website upgrades, and ‘giant fan fare’ will be forthcoming.
      • Silica Awareness Video: Hierarchy of controls
      • Noise: Life from a construction worker’s experience with noise
      • Asbestos: What to do when you encounter suspect asbestos
      • Lead: A humorous look at why we shouldn’t be exposed to lead


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

You’ve probably heard the Federal silica proposed-rule has moved in it’s next step towards being a promulgated-rule.

And, you’ve hopefully looked at my prior post about the positives and negatives of the rule. I am usually not in favor of more rules, but as a safety person, my overall opinion is the new rule would be good.

However, there is some opposition (EHS Today Summary Article) from a few industry groups and associations, including ARTBANAM, and the ACC in an article to plastic manufacturers. And just recently a lawsuit was filed to stop the rule. They have some good arguments, of which, I think the best are: THERE ARE ALREADY OVEREXPOSURES at the current PEL, and silica related deaths have been in decline for decades.

The ACGIH and NIOSH have been recommending lower airborne limits for years. If you are a construction firm, hopefully you already have (engineering & administrative) controls and respiratory protection in place. If not, the best time to start was yesterday, and the next best time is tomorrow.

cut off saw


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

There is a lot of confusion over confined spaces in construction. OSHA is enforcing these rules since Aug 3, 2015, but has given a 60 day postponement (effective Oct 2, 2015). Right now you need to make “good faith efforts” to comply. For those in construction, you need to get up to speed, and even more importantly, get confident. Unfortunately, this information isn’t going to get you 100% there.

The reason confined spaces (and the rules) are so complicated is because every space is different. It’s not a minimum height guard rail, or fall arrest system. There are just too many factors, including: death by honey

  • the size (or smallness)
  • the ventilation (or lack of)
  • access (or lack of)
  • the work activity (what you introduce)
  • the hazards (before you enter, and what you introduce)
  • the people inside (people are different, and work different)

To begin getting educated, here are my suggestions:

  • Know the definition of (and when it’s) a confined space (hint: 3 things)
  • Know the location(s) of your confined spaces (AND mark them as such)
  • Train your employees and yourself
  • Buy a multi-gas meter
    • And, know how to use it, bump it, and calibrate it
    • And, train others
  • Know: host employer, controlling contractor, sub contractor, mobile worker. It may not be obvious.
  • Know: ventilation. When you can use it,  what changes, and how much you need
  • Understand “rescue”.  And, the answer is not calling 911.

When an accident happens in a confined space, there’s a high likelihood it’s a fatality.

If you have confidence in the rules, and, more importantly, in the hazards & controls, confined spaces can be safe.

If you haven’t already heard, it is worth while to mention,OSHA now has jurisdiction over confined spaces in construction (in force on August 3, 2015). Hopefully those working in construction have already realized this hazard and have taken steps to prevent injury.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • **although there are many factors, and we should not compare hazards** OSHA estimates an “injury saving” of 780 serious injuries, and 5 lives spared with the confined space rule.  Compare this with the estimated injury saving from the proposed silica: prevent 1,600 cases of silicosis and save 700 lives.  (and, I do realize these cost employers different amounts of $)
  • Oregon OSHA – confined spaces already has a (new) construction confined space standard, which is very much different. It will be interesting to see if this; meets/exceeds/or needs to be changed, to comply with the federal rule.
  • Since this rule was dropped without much warning, we will wait to see if anyone calls “foul”. Other than political reasons, it is hard to imagine a reason why construction should be exempt from these rules.
  • There are some differences in the construction rule and the general industry:
    • Multi-employer work sites are covered
    • Continuous monitoring – when possible engulfment
    • Upstream early warning- when possible
    • Suspension (not cancellation) of a permit

confined space1

Sorry for the delay in writing. I have had some personal and professional projects taking a lot of my spare time. I have been preparing to present at a couple local conferences on Industrial Hygiene in Construction. It is a good exercise for me to ponder what I should say to these audiences. Here are some takeaways:


My latest guess (subject to change, by even tomorrow) is the Federal OSHA rule for silica will be enacted.

“Why”, you say? …well:

  • Current administration would love to push it through
  • Yes. It’s still an issue in the construction world. Have you driven by a construction site lately?
  • Federal OSHA is also talking about updating the PELs…and this one (silica) is an easy one
  • When?  No idea.

Falls in Construction:

This one is huge. In a bad way. If you look at what kills the most in construction, it’s falls (inclusive of scaffolding, ladders, fall protection, etc.) They cost a lot too. Not just in the number of people killed, but the claims & recovery cost are high. And, near misses in construction are VERY common. For example, just two weeks ago: An 18 year old roofer apprentice was working on a roof.  He stepped onto a piece of drywall and would have fallen to a concrete slab 25 feet below. Luckily someone had moved a piece of equipment directly under where he fell. He only fell four feet and had no injuries.

Hierarchy of Controls:

Is anyone working with these anymore? Just kidding, sort of. But, we can do a better job in construction of:

  1. Engineering Controls first. Can we eliminate this hazard? Has anyone asked to substitute this product for a safer one?
  2. Administrative Controls second. There are ways and methods which we do things in construction. These are usually passed down from journeyman to apprentice. Overall, this is awesome. For example, we need to rethink why we place the rebar on the ground? Can we use saw horses? Better material handling would save a lot of injuries.
  3. PPE third. And as a last resort.

Personal Protective Equipment:

Oh boy. There is a lot of room for improvement here. The wrong equipment, worn incorrectly, not used enough, and damaged. I don’t have the answer for this, except we should create and encourage the best safety culture possible.  I think this helps construction to take pride in their work, and their (and their friend’s) safety.

The latest push from NIOSH is ridiculous, in a bad way. It’s titled, “Recognizing N95 Day” on September 5. I’ve written about these types of respirators before.

Let’s start with:n95 box

  • NIOSH estimates 20 million workers exposed to airborne health risks
  • N95 (s) are the most commonly used respirator
  • NIOSH certifies all respirators. And, OSHA requires all respirators to be certified by NIOSH
  • All certified respirators must have an “assigned protection factor”, which is a level of protection they are able to achieve
  • N95 respirators are certified to provide a protection factor of “up to” 5 times the exposure limit

For the record, I am not disputing how NIOSH certifies respirators, or if these respirators can achieve a protection factor of 5 (5x the exposure limit). I will also add that in the healthcare setting (hospitals) these might have a useful role.

Here’s the problem:

  • If you need a respirator, you would NOT choose a N95. They are terrible fitting.
    • To put it another way: if you had to work in an environment which had a dangerous airborne hazard, would you CHOOSE this respirator?
    • Or another way: “There is a chance this N95 respirator might protect you, wear this just in case”. (?)
  • If you have fit tested these types, you know they are hard to fit, and at best, mediocre in their protection. At times it is hard to fit test a tight fitting 1/2 face respirator on someone who is clean shaven.
  • N95 respirators are handed out (like candy) at construction sites for any task which “may be hazardous”.
  • Let’s be honest:
    • these are “comfort” masks. AKA:  peace of mind, not for protection.
    • these are cheap. That is why most employers buy them.
  • And, let’s mention:
    • exposure levels can vary (have you measured the worst case scenario?)
    • change out schedule? Do your workers wear the same respirators every day? Do they change them when they start getting hard to breathe?
    • facial hair (no one who is on a jobsite has this, right?)
    • there are knock-off N95 respirators which actually aren’t certified (they’re fake)

In this instance I wish NIOSH would spend money on training people to use the correct type of respirator. Or, how to adequately measure the hazards found at various sites.

As a quick review. If you need to wear a respirator, here are the proper steps.

n95 box2

To raise awareness for construction fall protection, OSHA is asking for construction employers to join them between June 2 – 6, 2014 for employee training on the subject.

At OSHA’s site, you can find out how to:

  • conduct a safety stand-down
  • get additional resources; videos, wallet cards, etc
  • print a certificate
  • get a company poster (even in spanish)
  • share your story

And, look at my earlier posts for more additional resources.

fall protection

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