Silica: The Approaching Storm

Kristi Pronovost Merit Shop Spokesman Blog

By: Kevin B. Keith, Director of Safety Services, ABC Keystone

Preparing for a safety concern is similar to preparing for a weather event. Preparing for anything that can impact your business, your production, and/or your employees can typically feel a bit strange. There are “traps” that exist in the mindset that we cope with in preparing for events that seem to be a bit too far removed from our daily routine. An example of this can include preparing for a weather event. Living in Central Pennsylvania it would seem a bit odd to prepare for a hurricane. We don’t live along the coastline and by the time that these major meteorological events reach us, it doesn’t provide the same impact that is shown playing out in the Gulf Coastal regions. However, these types of weather events can still wreak havoc on our area. In 2011, remnants of tropical storm Lee (a tropical storm, not a hurricane) caused significant flooding and damage in our area. Pre-planning and preparation for a natural disaster is a big undertaking and it takes collective input from the entire management team. We must consider changing the way that we run our business operationally.

A safety hurricane, of sorts, is on its way. This hurricane is known as the Silica Standard. OSHA has extended the enforcement of the standard once, extending if from the initial effective date of June 23, 2017, until September 23, 2017. The standard is on the books for good, and only the enforcement of it can be pushed back. We can try to wish it away, but if you haven’t attempted to work on putting together a silica program, you and your company may find itself ill prepared to handle the approaching storm. Operations, safety, and all other levels of management should be working together in addressing the issue.

The health hazards of exposure to silica are real. Taking the appropriate steps to protect workers from overexposure is the right thing to do as a safety professional. Reviewing the standard with your collective team, considering your workers exposures, and assessing to what level they are exposed are just the beginning steps. OSHA has provided guidance for 18 common tasks and included engineering practices that can be implemented as part of the solution. If you follow the guidance provided by OSHA, the process becomes a bit less complicated and would include the creation of a written procedure and ensure that your Respiratory Protection program is in compliance. Further investigation may indicate that some of your workers may be required to wear a respirator for more than 30 days in year. If this is the case, additional medical surveillance would be implemented. Additionally, equipment may have to be purchased in order to comply with OSHA’s 18 tasks. Items may include wet saws and HEPA vacuum systems. These items should be addressed, and your team should consider replacing tools that are not compliant by implementing a tool purchase process. This type of preparation takes time, and time is quickly running out.

There are many tools that are available to assist you in working toward protecting your workers from silica. More and more manufacturers of equipment are providing the engineering aids to protect the worker. ABC Keystone can also assist you in the review of your processes and create a written program to meet your company’s needs. Call today to request a quote, and ABC Keystone will help you to prepare for the approaching storm!