Since 1972, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry has held compliance oversight responsibility for Code of Federal Regulations, Title 29, Part 1926 (29 CFR 1926), the federal OSHA standards for construction. With seven field offices and headquarters in Richmond, the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) compliance division enforces state and federal regulations in response to accidents, complaints, referrals, and thru randomly scheduled inspections of high hazard industries. As we all know, construction is a high hazard industry.
It’s hard to keep up. The rules and regulations are continuously being updated and new regulations promulgated. One of the most significant new regulations has to do with worker protections from crystalline silica dust. The silica rules became effective in Virginia on Dec.1, 2016, but VOSH enforcement did not begin until June 23, 2017, allowing employers a grace period to become informed, train, and retool to meet the new regulations.
Contractors should heed the warning. Since June 23 of this year, VOSH is enforcing full compliance, including requirements for employee sample analysis. OSHA recently published an enforcement action by the VOSH southwest regional office for five citations and $304,130 in penalties to Lanford Brothers Company for exposing workers to respirable crystalline silica hazards while using jackhammers to remove concrete from bridge piers. Inspectors determined that the company did not provide adequate eye and respiratory protection, failed to assess each worker for exposure to respirable crystalline silica and permitted workers to use jackhammers and concrete saws without proper control methods.1
In summary, the regulations require all construction employers to:
• Establish a written silica exposure control plan
• Designate a competent person to implement the plan
• Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica dust
• Offer medical exams to employees that wear respirators
• Train workers on the health effects of silica exposure
• Keep all records on employee medical exams and silica exposures
One of the most helpful reference documents for construction employers is Table 1: Specified Exposure Control Methods When Working With Materials Containing Crystalline Silica published in 29 CFR 1926. Table 1 identifies common construction tasks and associated dust control methods to protect workers. Employers can implement these methods, or they can employee an industrial hygienist to measure the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for at risk workers and determine what protection actions are needed. The VOSH website offers several additional resources including a training Power Point presentation that can be tailored specifically to your company.2
Leigh LaClair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.