Joel Guth Breaks Down the Risks of Silica Exposure and New Industry Regulations
Workplace Wellness The president of iQ Power Tools tells Mediaplanet how the construction and masonry industries are adapting to new safety regulations and what the future holds.
1. What made iQ Power Tools first start considering how to mitigate the risks of silica exposure, prior to OSHA’s latest ruling?
JG: About 15 years ago, I attended an NCMA National Concrete Masonry Association seminar as a mason contractor. They were concerned about the talk of a silica regulation that would require labeling of their products as “non-carcinogenic.”
That seminar helped me to gain insight as to where I thought the silica regulations were headed. As the NCMA was educating their members from the manufacturing side, I realized I needed to be more educated and educate my employees on the risks of silica exposure. We needed to change the way we do things.
In the 30+ years I was in the masonry industry, I have seen the amount of dry cutting that occurs daily on job sites and the resulting silica exposure increase exponentially. Seeing this happen on job sites to my employees and colleagues, and seeing that the industry was headed toward increased regulation, drove me to learn more about silica and the potential hazards associated with exposure. I realized we need to find solutions that would minimize exposure on job sites. There was nothing like that on the market so we invented our own solution. That led us down the path from contractors to becoming manufacturers.
2. What is the first step job sites can take towards implementation of the latest regulations from OSHA regarding silica?
JG: iQ has identified the four things that every contractor should know:
Know the Hazard: Silica (SI02) is Quartz, and is found naturally in almost all rock, sand, soil, brick and concrete products. Respirable crystalline silica particles penetrate deep into the lungs causing lung disease.
Know the Standard: OSHA silica permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (ug/m3), averaged over an 8-hour day. The new rule requires employers to use engineering controls to limit worker exposure, develop a written exposure control plan and train workers on silica risks, among other requirements.
Know your Exposure: Different work practices can potentially expose workers to respirable crystalline silica at levels 10 to 200 times above the OSHA PEL. Air monitoring gives exposure level results for specific work practices. You need to do air monitoring to learn what your exposure levels are. This is an inexpensive and relatively easy process for contractors. Once you learn your exposure levels, you can decide what options are best-suited to control silica exposure on your job sites.
- Know your Options:
Table 1: Pre-defined tasks and specified control methods. An employer that fully implements an equipment-control option on Table 1 for a task will not have to perform air monitoring for that task.
Performance or ‘Objective Data’: Air monitoring data compiled by the employer or third parties, such as trade associations, or manufacturers, which is sufficient to accurately prove the control method used reduces silica dust exposure below the permissible exposure level over an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA).
Scheduled Air Monitoring program: Assesses exposure by implementing a scheduled air monitoring program to ensure employees are not exposed above the PEL.
3. Regulations are continuously adapting to new data showing where our workers are at most risk. What is the projected impact to the future of the construction industry?
JG: The Silica Standard, just like many others, can appear harsh at first. This regulation is increasing the awareness that silica is a hazard and mustn’t be ignored. Contractors can use this regulation as an opportunity to improve their safety program and culture. The best general and subcontractors have a good safety program and have developed a safety culture that they incorporate into their business. A good safety program and culture reduces injuries and increases worker retention and morale. The impact is twofold: the regulation will improve safety programs and increase safety awareness which will ultimately save money; it will also facilitate safer job sites with reduced exposure which ultimately saves lives.