Dust created from concrete surface preparation can present an immense short and long-term health issues for workers. In response, OSHA has adopted a new rule, (29 CFR 1926.1153), which is designed to protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica, or breathable dust.
Respirable crystalline silica is particularly hazardous, as workers who inhale very small crystalline silica particles are at increased risk of developing serious silica-related diseases.
These particles can penetrate deep into workers’ respiratory systems and cause silicosis, an incurable, and sometimes fatal lung disease.
It also puts workers’ at risk of developing lung cancer, and other debilitating respiratory diseases such as obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.
Approximately 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work. OSHA estimates these standards will save the lives of more than 600 workers each year, and prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis each year.
These rules went into effect on September 23, 2017. Under this rule, resinous floor installers are required to provide training, provide respiratory protection when controls are not enough to limit exposure, provide written exposure plans, and measure exposures in some cases.
The written exposure plan identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods to protect workers, designating a competent person to implement the plan, restricting housekeeping practices to limit exposure and to offer medical exam and chest x-ray to employees once every 3 years if they are required to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
Workers who find out they have illnesses, such as lung disease, can use that information to make employment or lifestyle decisions to protect their health.
The rule includes special flexibility for the construction industry. For the most common tasks in construction, OSHA has spelled out exactly how to best protect workers. It also spells out how sealing the concrete substrate is important, typically epoxy flooring.
If employers follow those specifications, they can be sure that they are providing their workers with the required with the required level of protection. OSHA even allows employers to not follow their guidelines, as long as their safety measures effectively reduce their workers’ exposure to silica dust.
As far as equipment regulations, like diamond grinders, the rule requires you to use shrouds on your grinders and vacuum systems that meet certain airflow and filter standards and potentially provide respirators for workers to use if vacuums are unavailable (Link to OSHA regulations for “Specified Exposure Control Methods When Working With Materials Containing Crystalline Silica”).
On the table, in the link to OSHA regulations, you will see section xii (handheld grinders for uses other than mortar removal) and section xiii (walk-behind milling machines and floor grinders).
The best way for facility managers to ensure that their resinous flooring installer is following the new OSHA regulations is to make sure you hire an expert with years of experience. To learn about making sure your floor is up to OSHA standards check out my blog post on “Importance of Dust Proofing Your Warehouse.”