Grinding Concrete Silica Dust

Ensures Better Protection for OPCMIA Members

In a great victory for OPCMIA members and other building trades workers, the new life-saving silica standard developed by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was recently upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

As a result, employers must comply with regulations that will increase protection for construction and other workers potentially exposed to silica dust.

The OPCMIA, along with the other unions affiliated with North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), has worked tenaciously for decades to require employers to take steps to prevent silica exposure.

“Many of our affiliates and their members actively participated in OSHA’s extensive rulemaking proceedings,” NABTU said in a statement, “sharing stories of their family members and co-workers lost to silica-related illnesses, as well as practical and easily-implemented ways to control exposures and protect workers. Their testimony and evidence not only supported the standard, but the strong record they created provided much of the basis for OSHA’s defense of the standard in court.”

Silica is a component in many building materials used by OPCMIA members, primarily concrete, but also masonry, tile, and rock. When workers cut, grind, crush, or drill these materials, very small crystalline silica particles are produced. If inhaled, these particles can penetrate deep into workers’ lungs and cause silicosis, an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease. Workers exposed to silica are also at greater risk of developing lung cancer, other potentially debilitating respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.

Under the new standards, employers must:

  • Provide saws for cutting silica-containing materials with built-in systems applying water to the blade that limits the amount of respirable crystalline silica that gets into the air;
  • Provide respiratory protection when required;
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose employees to respirable crystalline silica where feasible alternatives are available;
  • Establish and implement a written exposure control plan, including designating a competent person;
  • Offer medical exams to employees who will be required to wear a respirator under the standard for 30 or more days a year;
  • Communicate hazards and train employees; and
  • Keep records of medical examinations.

The OPCMIA Training Department provides training in silica awareness and exposure prevention, and is working with our affiliates to ensure proper implementation of the new silica standards. However, if you feel your employer is not taking the steps required under the new standard to protect you, please notify your shop steward or business manager immediately.