Last week in TileLetter Weekly, we reported on the new OSHA ruling and regulations to protect workers by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica, and thus curb lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease .
The rule contains key provisions, set to take effect on June 23, 2017. The rule:
- Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
- Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
- Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.
- Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.
Jeremy Waldorf of Legacy Floors in Howell, Mich., wears a respirator specifically designed to protect against silica. Waldorf purchased it online for about $45.
Tile contracting companies and individual installers spoke out recently about the provisions of the rule and what it will mean for them and their businesses.
Jesse Boswell, owner of ReTile in Mesa, Ariz., said, “I believe it is a necessity to protect workers from dust . I wish it didn’t have to get to the point where government had to step in. And it is unfortunate that not all tasks in construction have the necessary dust control available yet. It will be difficult to comply with this ruling without wearing a respirator full time.”
Phillip Kozey, controller at Stuart Tile Company and NTCA Michigan co-State Ambassador with cousin Todd Kozey, said, “I’m 36 years old and was diagnosed with COPD last year. But I was hand-making thinset in a wheelbarrow with Portland silica sand and liquid latex when I was 9 years old. I’m glad they’re coming out with these new laws. I just started using a mask and respirator about a year ago.”
Chris Wood, of Chris Wood Fixit in Russell, Ontario, recommended some products that really help with dust collection, like the Wale Tale and ARDEX dust collector. “It’s so nice to be able to mix indoors, and you know, not get COPD,” he said. “I do strongly believe in the dust systems. They are a game changer.”
James Woelfel, NTCA board chairman, with Artcraft Granite, Marble and Tile Co., also from Mesa, Ariz., stressed the importance of safeguarding employees, while pondering how the provisions of the new rule are to be measured and enforced.
“First and foremost, our company wants to make sure our employees are safe from external factors that could cause injury or illness,” he said. “That being said, how does OSHA intend to enforce a standard that technology has not caught up to? How do we measure a cubic foot of air outside in the wind? How is OSHA showing small businesses to be flexible?”
Calling the ruling “onerous,” Woelfel added, “It is so easy for people not in the fight everyday mandate a regulation or a process, to continue to pile on regulations that will eventually strangle our companies. We are investing in technology every day to reduce dust and other by-products from our jobs. Here in Arizona we actually have to have a license to be able to be tracked by the state environmental department in regards to creating too much dust.”
Martin Brookes of Heritage Marble & Tile in Mill Valley, Calif., and NTCA’s 2nd vice president, also felt the burden of the legislation. “We implement PPE and safety meetings to make our workers aware of silica and other airborne particulate that could be detrimental to their health and safety,” he explained. “I’m all for the welfare of the worker as this keeps them healthy, and in turn productivity is not affected. In my opinion the legislation takes it too far, and is more for a revenue stream than to help the worker. The money would be better spent in educational campaigns to make the workers aware rather than a “gotcha” approach which does nothing but hurt the business owner.”
Martin Howard of David Allen Company (DAC), and NTCA’s current president echoed safety program strategies voiced by Woelfel and Brookes, as well as noting that DAC has a dedicated full time safety director. “We want to educate and train our employees to be safe at all times from all jobsite dangers,” he said.
He related tales of three on-site monitoring surveys by independent engineers DAC conducted to understand the exposure to crystalline silica its workers experience, intentionally making conditions worse-case. “All three produced results that were below the old OSHA standard, some by a large margin,” he said. With the new ruling, he said that “if exposure limits reach a level less than half the old standard, a whole series of precautionary steps must be implemented along with air quality monitoring for the balance of the job. This is a very expensive process that would seem to be unnecessary. The number of exposure cases resulting in sickness under the old standard was very small, and most could be attributed to a lack of enforcement of the standard. Instead of starting to enforce the reasonable standard they are regulating an unreasonable standard that is almost impossible to measure.”
He added, “I think many of the preventative tools and methods prescribed in the new standard are common sense, and if enforced, could achieve a reduction in illnesses without lowering the parts per million in the air to an immeasurable level.”
Do you have an opinion on the new OSHA silica rule, or have found workable ways to reduce your exposure to silica? Send your thoughts to [email protected] —Lesley Goddin