Bloomberg: BNA Construction Labor News January 7, 2019, 2:17 PM
Safety inspectors enforcing a new federal rule limiting worker exposure to hazardous silica dust are most likely to cite manufacturers for not meeting risk-assessment requirements.
A Bloomberg Law analysis of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforcement records shows the most common provision violated by employers was the mandate for determining whether workers are likely to be exposed to silica dust at levels exceeding OSHA’s threshold.
Inhaling silica in dangerous amounts can scar lungs, making it difficult to breath, and is sometimes fatal.
The silica rule requires businesses where silica dust is a byproduct of manufacturing and distribution to periodically take air samples throughout work sites.
Among the industries OSHA advised to take precautions were metal foundries, brick kilns, ready-mix concrete providers, and precast cement product manufacturers.
Of the 42 silica violations cited as of Jan. 4 by OSHA and many states enforcing the same requirements, 38 percent (16) involved employers allegedly not meeting assessment requirements (29 C.F.R. 1910.1053(d)).
Beyond not meeting assessment mandates, the remaining citations included failing to have a written exposure control plan and not educating workers on how to avoid inhaling silica.
As is common with enforcement of new rules, most fines were low. Of the 42 violations, 62 percent (26) of the proposed fines were $500 or less.
The highest proposed fine sought by federal OSHA was $18,108 for two serious violations against a sand and gravel distributor. A settlement cut the fine to $5,000.
The enforcement data show most of the inspections leading to silica citations were based on employee complaints.
Two Years to Prepare
The general industry silica rule was released in March 2016, giving factories and distributors more than two years to prepare for federal enforcement starting last June.
If an employer’s sampling determines dust levels exceed federal limits, OSHA requires the factory to cut silica exposure by taking such actions as improving air filtering, more frequent cleanings, and changing manufacturing processes.
The rule reduces by 50 percent how much breathable silica workers can be exposed to. The new level is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 μg/m3). The regulation also sets an “action level” of 25 μg/m3, meaning employers must regularly measure exposure if the amount of breathable silica exceeds that level.
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