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What you need to know about OSHA’s New Silica Physical

Occupational Health

Silica Physical

Construction sites are notorious for their many moving parts and constant safety concerns that employers must always keep in mind. As the industry involves, so does OSHA’s standards to stay atop new potential hazards or additional insights into existing ones, much like OSHA’s new silica physical requirements.

Since those silica physical requirements are still new to the industry, many companies are still familiarizing themselves with the silica hazards themselves as well as the mandated safety standards to ensure healthy and productive work sites. Of course, the industry can always rely on Origin’s experience and expertise regarding the silica physical requirements to make certain your physical program is both compliant and effective.

Background Information on Silica

The term silica is shorthand for crystalline silica, a material commonly found in building materials like concrete, mortar, sand, and stone. Naturally, these materials are frequently used in construction sites around the world. Although silica is virtually everywhere in the environment, from playgrounds and parks to beaches and other natural terrains, it’s the small particles of the material created on construction sites that can impact a person’s health.

Specifically, when silica is cut, sawed, ground, drilled, or crushed, the resulting particles are at least 100 times smaller than those found naturally, allowing them to easily become airborne and inhaled as a particulate on a construction site. It is this mechanism that poses such a health hazard to construction workers, who are constantly working with materials that readily create airborne silica particles.

Health Hazards of Silica

When workers inhale these microscopic silica particles, they are at risk of developing serious respiratory conditions. Therefore, OSHA is especially vigilant with their health and safety standards, as evidenced by the new silica physical requirements.

Prolonged exposure to airborne silica particles drastically increase the chances of contracting Silicosis, an incurable lung disease, lung cancer, COPD, and even kidney disease. To protect construction workers, OSHA has established a stringent set of standards specifically for the construction industry due to the high prevalence of airborne silica particles throughout construction sites.

Silica Standard Compliance

OSHA’s silica standards for the construction industry are intended to both limit exposure to respirable silica as well as proactively check for symptoms that might indicate health issues from previous exposure. To provide a fair degree of flexibility in compliance, OSHA allows employers to either adopt a preset group of control methods or to measure exposure rates and independently choose which control methods work best for their particular circumstances.

However, no matter which exposure control method a company chooses, the standards require all construction employers to include the following measures in their silica safety programs:

  • Create and implement a written control plan that discusses specific tasks that involve silica exposure as well as any methods and procedures to protect workers, including restricted access to areas with potentially high exposures
  • Choose an individual to explain and enforce the written exposure control plan
  • Restrict tasks that could expose workers to airborne silica particles when viable alternatives are available
  • Offer thorough medical exams that include chest x-rays and test lung function every three years for employees required to wear a respirator for 30 days or more each year
  • Proactively educate workers on operations that might expose them to silica as well as ways to limit their exposure
  • Maintain detailed records of exposure measurements, data, and health exams

It’s important to note that while these new silica exposure standards from OSHA are relatively new to the industry, they are already in full effect as of September 23, 2017. Also, OSHA has distributed a number of fact sheets concerning silica dust exposure and the risks involved with specific materials, tools, and operations for employers to better understand possible silica particulate levels on their worksites.

Silica Standards Best Practices

Thankfully, as overwhelming as OSHA’s new silica standards might be for many construction companies, project managers and saftety directors can rely on Origin to provide both guidance and solutions for their needs. The physical component of the new standards are the most taxing for employers and require an organized approach to be effective, a function that Origin is especially beneficial with.

Companies can conduct physicals for OSHA’s silica exposure standards either on-site or at an occupational health clinic. Of course, there’s no right or wrong in choosing between the two, but strictly depends on an employer’s particular needs and circumstances. Whether on- or off-site, however, using a third-party administrator will make certain the doctor is always following proper protocols established by OSHA.

Origin provides significant value to safety directors and project managers in this area, able to set up safety physicals with a doctor either on-site or at a nearby occupational health clinic. Given the specificity of the demands and standards, relying on Origin’s experience and extensive network makes compliance with the OSHA silica standards as easy as reaching out to our team.

Compliance isn’t a luxury with OSHA’s new stringent silica exposure standards, particularly with the physical exams so important in maintaining a healthy workforce. With Origin as a partner, though, meeting the new standards doesn’t have to be a feat in of itself but convenient, efficient, and effective so you can concentrate on the many other tasks that safety directors and project managers already have on their plates.

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