Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth's crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete, and mortar contain crystalline silica. It is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, and artificial stone.
Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might find on beaches and playgrounds – is created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. Activities such as abrasive blasting with sand; sawing brick or concrete; sanding or drilling into concrete walls; grinding mortar; manufacturing brick, concrete blocks, stone countertops, or ceramic products; and cutting or crushing stone result in worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica dust. Industrial sand used in certain operations, such as foundry work and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), is also a source of respirable crystalline silica exposure. About 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work.
Workers who inhale these very small crystalline silica particles are at increased risk of developing serious silica-related diseases, including:
- Silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death;
- Lung cancer;
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and
- Kidney disease.
COMPLYING WITH THE CONSTRUCTION STANDARD:
OSHA's Respirable Crystalline Silica standard for construction requires employers to limit worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica and to take other steps to protect workers.
The standard provides flexible alternatives, which OSHA expects will be especially useful for small employers. Employers can either use the control methods laid out in Table 1 of the construction standard, or they can measure workers' exposure to silica and independently decide which dust controls work best to limit exposures to the PEL in their workplaces.
Regardless of which exposure control method is used, all construction employers covered by the standard are required to:
- Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
- Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan.
- Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
- Offer medical exams-including chest X-rays and lung function tests-every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
- Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
- Keep records of exposure measurements, objective data, and medical exams.
Construction employers must comply with all requirements of the standard by September 23, 2017, except requirements for laboratory evaluation of exposure samples, which begin on June 23, 2018. See pages 16-17 for the OSHA Fact Sheets for the Control of Silica Dust in Construction.