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The air clears on new silica dust regs

air clears on new silica dust regs

On March 24, 2016, around three years after the initial proposal, OSHA finalized two new silica standards: one for general industry and maritime (1910.1053), and the other for construction (1926.1153).

According to OSHA, strong evidence shows that the previous permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3) is associated with increased risk of developing lung cancer and kidney disease. Reducing the PEL by 50% to 50 μg/m3 is estimated to save the lives of more than 600 workers and prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis each year.

In addition to reducing the PEL, OSHA also reduced the Action Level to 25 μg/m3, that would prompt certain control measures if exceeded. Crystalline silica is found in many common products, including but not limited to, asphalt, brick, cement, drywall, some paints, plaster, rock, sand, oil, stone and tile. Exposures to crystalline silica dust occur in common workplace operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of these materials where the materials may go airborne.

Affected industries include:

  • Construction
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Pottery products
  • Structural clay products
  • Concrete products
  • Foundries
  • Dental laboratories
  • Paintings and coatings
  • Jewelry production
  • Refractory products
  • Ready-mix concrete
  • Cut stone and stone products
  • Abrasive blasting in maritime, construction, and general industry
  • Refractory furnace installation and repair
  • Railroad transportation
  • Oil and gas operations

The new rule applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica, except where employee exposures will remain below the action level of 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) under any foreseeable conditions. Exclusions include agricultural operations and exposures in the processing of sorptive clays.

By June 23, 2017 (Construction) and June 23, 2018 (General Industry and Maritime and some provisions of Hydraulic Fracking), employers will have to:

  • Implement controls and work practices that reduce workers’ exposure to silica dust
  • Limit access to high exposure areas
  • Provide training with regards to hazard communication and work practices to reduce exposure
  • Provide respiratory protection when controls are not sufficient to limit exposure and comply with existing OSHA requirements of the respiratory protection standard
  • Provide written exposure control plans
  • Measure exposures in some cases
  • Offer medical examinations to highly exposed workers

By Michelle McIntyre, MPH, CIH, CSP, Principal Consultant, BSI EHS Services and Solutions

Click here for more information on BSI’s Construction Services

Training future scientists to survive their experiments: personal protective equipment in university labs

Universities are not only institutions of higher learning; they are also dynamic, vibrant incubators of invention and discovery.  Nowhere is this truer than in the scientific and medical research laboratories. These labs support around-the-clock efforts of future PhDs and MDs honing the skills needed to have their name published in a scientific review journal, a textbook, or the ultimate achievement – in history books as the winner of a Nobel Prize.

Student researchers are mentored by PhDs or MDs who have already proven themselves through countless hours in the lab, writing successful grant proposals, publishing their work, teaching classes, and for all intents and purposes, running their own little corporations underneath the umbrella of the employer, the University.

The people who choose to spend their time in research careers are often risk-takers – they have to be willing to spend decades on failed experiments before their “eureka!” moment comes. But the innovative, unorthodox, radical thinking that may foster brilliant discoveries and inventions can also hinder attempts to ensure that the lab is a safe and healthy place to work.

If you walk into any privately-owned research lab, chances are you will find the researchers outfitted in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like labcoats and protective eyewear (impact-resistant glasses or chemical splash goggles.) This practice is often established as part of an effective top-down health and safety program whereby employees are expected to abide by their employer’s requirements to work safely in the lab.

Companies often hold employees accountable, and use various techniques to reprimand an employee that repeatedly refuses or forgets to wear their PPE. People who forget to wear their PPE don’t forget for long, especially when they notice that everyone around them has on PPE. Furthermore, these seasoned, professional researchers often understand the personal health consequences of not wearing their PPE.

In a university lab many of the young researchers are still learning their craft, and may not have the professional or life experience to help them understand why their PPE benefits their own health and safety. Feeling comfortable and looking like their peers may often be the strongest motivator for what young researchers choose to wear in the lab. Shorts and flip-flops are not unheard of. This college-appropriate sense of style, combined with the unorthodox methods of their supervisors, can result in the misuse of PPE, or even worse, the lack of PPE altogether.

Future scientists are highly-intelligent, driven people who often thrive intellectually when they are given a certain amount of freedom to march to the beat of their own drum. Unfortunately, without a reasonable amount of top-down oversight and requirements, they can adopt bad habits.

It is important that PPE policies for university labs are reinforced with both bottom-up and top-down strategies. Bottom-up strategies may include young, hip marketing campaigns; peer-pressure; social media messaging; education and training designed specifically for the undergrad and graduate student audience; and raffles for labs that are in compliance. Top-down strategies may include unannounced inspections from the campus EH&S office; letters from Chancellors and Deans demanding compliance with PPE; role models who regularly demonstrate good PPE habits; and support from their lab managers and supervisors.

Every scientist has the potential to make mankind’s greatest discovery, or birth the invention that may save humanity from some unforeseen fate. Ensuring future scientists survive their university-based experiments long enough to fulfil their potential is a meaningful health and safety issue. An effective PPE program and a strong PPE culture on campus play an important role in this effort.

By Sarah R. Gordon, Associate Consultant, EORM

Click here for more information on EORM’s Higher Education EHS & Lab Safety Services.

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© 2017 The British Standards Institution 2016