The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Monday released a set of 53 frequently asked questions – and their answers – to provide guidance to employers and employees on its respirable crystalline silica standard for construction.
Through the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, NAHB was an important contributor to the formulation of this FAQ. The development stemmed from litigation filed against OSHA by numerous construction industry trade associations challenging the legality of the new silica rule.
NAHB will continue to look for ways to work with OSHA to improve the workability of this significant rule.
The FAQ is extensive and organized by topic. A short introductory paragraph is included for each group of questions; the answers appear in an expanded box when each question is clicked.
Importantly, the FAQ clarifies that many common construction tasks are likely to be outside the scope of the standard. This includes mixing small amounts of mortar; mixing small amounts of concrete; mixing bagged, silica-free drywall compound; mixing bagged exterior insulation finishing system base and finish coat; and removing concrete formwork.
In addition, tasks in which employees are working with silica products that are handled while wet are likely to generate exposures outside of the scope of the standard, including finishing and hand wiping block walls to remove excess wet mortar, pouring concrete, and grouting floor and wall tiles. The FAQ also states that many silica-generating tasks performed for 15 minutes or less a day will fall outside the scope of the standard.
Other clarifications in the FAQ highlighted by NAHB staff include:
Table 1. The requirement that employers “[o]perate and maintain” tools “in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions to minimize dust emissions,” applies only to manufacturer instructions that are related to dust control. Other information in these instructions, including recommended respiratory protection, do not have to be followed for purposes of the standard.
OSHA also has agreed to issue a Request for Information on Table 1 to revise the table to improve its utility.
Written Exposure Control Plan. The standard does not require employers to develop a new written plan for each job or worksite. It requires only that employers have a written exposure control plan applicable to each worksite. Employers may develop a single, comprehensive, written exposure-control plan that covers all required aspects of the plan for all work activities at all worksites.
Also, the standard does not preclude employees from entering work areas where silica-generating tasks are occurring when it is necessary for them to do so. Rather, the rule calls only for minimizing the number of employees in the relevant work areas.
All home builders should carefully review the new FAQ at https://www.osha.gov/dsg/topics/silicacrystalline/construction_info_silica.html.