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

I was asked to summarize my thoughts on the OSHA proposed silica rule (which is currently pending). I’ve done it before, but since it was for the ASSE’s Industrial Hygiene Practice Specialty, it seemed fitting to post it on this site as well.

Wondering what is happening with the OSHA crystalline silica rule? In aviation terms it’s called a holding pattern. This airplane may-or may not-land. And, it is anyone’s guess.

If you haven’t heard, Federal OSHA is proposing to reduce the airborne silica permissible exposure limit (PEL) to 50 µg/m³. It is difficult to say how much lower this new rule will be, since the current standard relies on a calculated formula to obtain the exposure limit. However, for rounding purposes, let’s just say it’s a 50% reduction in the PEL. This limit is the same at the NIOSH Recommended Limit but still above the ACGIH (2006) Threshold Limit Value of 25 µg/m³.

Over the last year my views on this rule haven’t changed much: It’s a mixed-bag. There are still overexposures to silica. However, will the new rule change behavior?

To show some of the contrast, let me explain. Overexposures to airborne crystalline silica are still occurring. However, silica deaths have continued to decrease over the recent past (without the new rule). But, will the small employers comply? Or just wait to be cited? There is rarely a perfect solution for all situations. I’d like to provide a perspective balance to both sides of the rule.

The obvious benefit to lowering the silica exposure limit will be to protect overexposures to silica. I believe the rule will accomplish this in a number of ways. Any new rule will generate increased awareness for the subject of silica. The new rule will drive OSHA compliance by both lowering the PEL and by compliance with their additional controls. This will drive changes and modification to industries. Innovation will be spurned for controls and the need to comply.  In turn, this will create more discussions on the topic, the solutions, and overall awareness.

The new rule will get closer to the ACGIH TLV and update the health standards. The original rule was from the 1970s. And, OSHA is on the prowl for ways to update their current PELs.

Health and safety consultants will have an occasion for additional revenue in training, air monitoring, recommending controls, and other opportunities.

The new rule allows for alternatives to sampling. Rather than air sampling, you can choose to “over protect” and assure employees are controlling silica exposures.  This is a great solution for short duration tasks where exposure monitoring is prohibitive (see Table 1 from OSHA’s Fact Sheet). They emphasize control measures for silica.

There are very few new products and control measures for mitigating silica exposure in industry. Technology has somewhat sidestepped innovating products for dust capture and control for concrete work. Hopefully new products will be created to control silica. If nothing else, maybe we will see frequent job safety analysis (JSA, JHA) as a common practice to control exposures.


However, there are notable weaknesses to the proposed rule. The obvious downside is employers are expected to spend money. This will be an additional cost to doing business. Money will be spent on citations, controls for silica, labor during the activities, and for consultants to verify exposures are below the PEL.

This new rule will also allow OSHA to issue citations easier.  There are many items in the new rule which are beyond merely lowering the exposure limit. I imagine compliance officers will cite for failure to implement controls, or other technical aspects, rather than measuring the airborne dust and finding overexposure. Look for more drive-by citations.

And, there will be more confusion. Remember explaining to people how to calculate the current PEL? Well, in the short term, it won’t get easier. Although the PEL will be a fixed amount, there will be other things to explain. And, remember all the OSHA rules for leaded paint? The new rule is similar in how it allows you to provide adequate PPE and controls for “interim” work without measuring airborne levels.  Imagine you are a smaller contractor employer. This will be confusing and a lot of background work in order to use a jackhammer for one small project.

And, analytically, the airborne levels attempting to be achieved are so low, they are at the laboratory detection limits. With laboratory I currently use, to reach the detectable minimum PEL you will need to sample for at least 80 minutes (200 Liters). There is some newer sampling equipment which makes these levels easier to achieve. But, guess what? That will cost more money.  In addition, contained in the rule are mention of specific medical evaluations and facilities for those with continued overexposures. There are not enough medical facilities to support the number of people who need them.


Overall, I believe the new silica rules will help reduce overexposures to silica. The increase in awareness across the US will bring more attention to the danger. Employers who are doing absolutely nothing to control silica will get caught, punished, and hopefully change their ways. For employers already in compliance, there will be a small, but manageable, learning curve. I also see many contractors using interim controls (Table 1) as a guide to easily protect employees on short tasks with high silica exposures.

To stay ahead of the curve, the AIHA has released (2013) a white paper for guidelines on skills & competencies in silica specific to construction. It is a great outline for training your employees. Another great resource for awareness and silica control measures is silica-safe.org. As a reminder, pre-task planning is still one of the best methods for health and safety.

 Here’s my sampling outfit.

my silica bag


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.

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


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

I titled this post, “hazards of drywall”, but it encompassing most of the common hazards of plaster, mud, gypsum, wall-hangers, tapers, and acoustic employees.

  1. Corrosive drywall.

    I have not dealt with this subject on a personal level. However, AIHA has a new guidance document titled, “Assessment and Remediation of Corrosive Drywall: An AIHA Guidance Document“, which is a clarification of an earlier white paper document from 2000, titled, “Corrosive Drywall“. The danger is from a specific type of drywall which was imported from China. After installation it is known to emit sulfide vapors, which corrode copper (electrical wires), and can give off a sulfur smell (HT to JeffH in Ohio).

  2. Asbestos in mud/plaster.

    Be aware, some older buildings (pre 1980s) may have asbestos in the mud compound or plaster (not as common). This will be a concern if you are performing demo on these walls. Info here.

  3. Silica (dust) in joint (mud) compound.

    Some types of silica I have found to have silica. This can be an issue when sanding. AND, if you install drywall like me…you do a lot of sanding. More information from an earlier post can be found here. NIOSH has some suggestions too.

  4. Leaded sheetrock. If you are installing (or demo) leaded sheetrock, you NEED to protect yourself. Airborne levels of lead can approach the exposure limits, even during installation. More info here.
  5. Lead in paint. If you’re tying into existing plaster/drywall and there’s paint, you need to know if there’s lead in it. Sanding on the paint is a good way to be exposed. More info here.
  6. Ergonomics. Hanging the wallboard takes a toll on your body after 20 years (or less). Not to mention sanding. Washington OSHA (L&I) has a good demo.
  7. Noise. Cutting steel studs, powder actuated tools (there’s lead exposure too, you know).
  8. Skin hazards. Cutting, but also dermatitis from prolonged exposure to dust.
  9. Eye hazards. Dust, carpentry, etc. Working overhead is an easy way to get falling items in your eyes.
  10. Falls. Last on my list, but certainly not the least. Scaffolding, working from ladders, and using stilts, to name a few.

For better, or worse, the silica rule has been delayed, again. This delay is for an extension of the public comment period, which goes until December 12, 2013. Public hearings are set to begin on March 4, 2014.

Find OSHA here, with links to my previous post. A NPR story from February, 2013.

My views on this rule haven’t changed much: It’s still a mixed-bag. There are still overexposures to silica (see my pictures from the last 3 weeks). However, will the new rule change the behavior?

  • Overexposures are still happeningsilica street2
  • Silica deaths have decreased over the past (without the new rule)
  • Will the small employers (the ones who typically offend the most) comply? Or just wait to be cited?

But, my overwhelming thought is this:

  • Any new rule will generate “noise” for the subject of silica. And, that’s a good-thing.
  • This will drive:
    • compliance
    • changes
    • innovation
    • discussions
    • awareness

silica street1

If you live in the United States, you have less than one month to train your employees on the new Hazard Communication standard (1910.1200(h) & 1926.59), which should include information about the new types of Safety Data Sheets (formerly known as MSDS) and the adaptation with the Global Harmonization System (GHS). December 1, 2013 is the enforcement start date for OSHA. Don’t make this complicated, it is straightforward. Here’s what you should do:

  • Train employees in hazard communication (simply: so they know the hazards they are working with)beer
  • Document your training (in case of an OSHA inspection)
  • Show them a sample Safety Data Sheet (SDS), compared with the old MSDS
  • Explain that the new SDS will not be available immediately, but will roll-out over a few years (or more)

*Please note the “Beer” hazard warning on the right is not GHS compliant. 

For Help:

It’s sad to say, but many construction companies have not yet started a formal hearing conservation program. Their solution is to purchase the best earplugs, for the lowest cost, and give them away like candy.

As I’ve mentioned before: Sometimes OSHA’s rules are protective (meaning: you will be safe) and other times they are really not on par with the health research. Hearing loss and OSHA’s method of measuring noise are NOT protective to employee health (your hearing). For the best method of measuring noise, look to the recommended guidelines of the ACGIH. In order to get the exact parameters, you must purchase their Guide to Occupational Exposure Values (TLVs) booklet. It hasn’t changed (at least for noise) for a few years, but it is still the most up to date on health for your hearing. Here’s a summary of some differences:

  • Exchange rate (how noise doubles and is averaged over time)
    • OSHA uses 5, ACGIH uses 3 >>which means noise doubles every 5, or 3 dB increase
    • this makes a BIG difference in your accumulated average noise level (TWA).
  • Exposure Limit, or Criterion Level
    • OSHA says 90 dBA, ACGIH says 85 dBA
    • Doesn’t seem too different (-5), but remember noise is logarithmic and it’s measured different by OSHA & the ACGIH

NIOSH also has some guidelines, which are very similar to the ACGIH.NIOSH noise

There are some strong benefits to having a hearing conservation program. Here are some examples and suggestions for bettering your own program.

If you have worked in construction for any period of time, you know how loud it can be, and how much exposure is out there. Don’t assume working in this industry that hearing loss will to happen to you. Do something about it. Here’s a presentation from CDC/NIOSH a few years back on how to start.

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.

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