The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) recently released a position paper that outlines the basic body of knowledge needed to provide meaningful worker protection from an overexposure to silica.
Crystalline silica is an industrial material (quartz is the most common form) found in sand, stone, rock, concrete, brick and mortar.
The AIHA defines a “silica-competent person” as an individual on a worksite who is capable of recognizing and evaluating situations where overexposure may be occurring, who knows how to evaluate the exposure potential and who can make recommendations for exposure control.
The association said the paper provides a list of recommended subject-specific skills and competency objectives that silica-competent persons should have to enable them to perform the job successfully.
Occupational exposure to crystalline silica often occurs as part of common workplace operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick, block, rock and stone. Workers who inhale small crystalline silica particles from the air may develop disabling and sometimes fatal lung diseases, including silicosis and lung cancer. Activities historically associated with high rates of silicosis include sandblasting, sand-casting foundry operations, mining, tunneling, cement cutting, demolition, masonry work and granite cutting.
An estimated 1.7 million workers in the United States are exposed to respirable crystalline silica, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). There is no cure for silicosis, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 200 workers die each year from the disease.
Use of Competent Persons in Construction
OSHA’s Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health recommended that OSHA use a competent-person approach for the proposed silica-in-construction rule.
“Use of competent persons is well-recognized and accepted in the construction industry, and this approach provides a mechanism to encourage that a minimal level of safety and health capability be available even for small jobs and small employers,” the AIHA said. “The competent person is on scene, recognizes the problem, initiates basic corrective action and calls in more sophisticated assistance for more difficult situations.”
Silica-competent persons could demonstrate competency by successfully completing a training program, the association suggested, and should be those who typically are onsite each workday.
For example, the superintendent, lead foreman or onsite safety representative could fill this role.
Some of the subject-specific skills and competency objectives outlined by the AIHA include:
- Ability to describe the routes of silica exposure.
- Ability to describe the health effects of silica overexposure.
- Knowledge of the exposure levels and tasks associated with acute and chronic silicosis.
- Knowledge of what an occupational exposure level is and how exposures are measured.
- Familiarity with current regulations and best practices.
- Ability to determine whether silica is present through bulk sample analysis, material safety data sheets and material checklists.
- Knowledge of the controls used to reduce silica exposures.
OSHA’s Long-Delayed Silica Standard
OSHA submitted a proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica, which has been in the works for 16 years, to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in February 2011. Although an executive order requires that a review of proposed rules be completed within 90 days, the White House has held the rule for more than two years.
The final rule is expected to include a reduction in the existing permissible exposure limit for silica dust and to set new requirements for work areas and engineering controls.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.
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