Resources to Work Safely with Silica & Comply with the New Standard

Resources to Work Safely with Silica & Comply with the New Standard

The new silica standard for the construction industry went into effect on September 23, 2017 and was upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in December.  Several Building Trades unions provided testimony and evidence in support of the standard because it will reduce our members’ risk for serious, often fatal illnesses.  OSHA estimates that this standard will prevent more than 600 deaths and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year.  An online resource, Work Safely with Silica ( developed by CPWR-The Center for Construction Research and Training, can help our members and employers understand what is required to comply with the standard.

Written Exposure Control Plan

This free planning tool can be used by contractors to comply with the requirement to have a written exposure control plan.  The planning tool guides the user through three steps:

Step 1 – “Will you generate dust containing silica on the job?” 

This step includes a list of materials that contain silica, and for each one, a list of tasks (e.g., abrasive blasting, etc.).  An employer can select multiple materials and tasks that will be performed using each material.  If the contractor is not sure if a material contains silica, there’s a prompt at the bottom of the screen, “learn more.” Clicking on this link provides four different ways to find out if a material contains silica.  Once the materials and tasks have been selected, the “Continue” button turns green and can be clicked on to proceed to Step 2. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1

All of the materials and tasks selected in Step 1 automatically appear in this step, along with a list of equipment control options for each combination.  Similar to Step 1, if the user is not sure how to best control the dust, there are four different options to help them (Figure 2 – A).  For each equipment control option listed, a user can find commercially-available options and related information by clicking on the prompt above the list (Figure 2 – B).   There is space for the user to add specific details about where and how the materials and equipment controls will be used on the project.  Once the equipment-control options are selected, the “Complete” button will turn green and the user can proceed to the 3rd and final step.

Figure 2

Step 3 – Complete your Silica Control Plan

This is the final step.  All of the information entered for Steps 1 and 2 automatically appears in this step. There is space to fill in the remaining information that must be included in the written exposure control plan and there is a ‘click here’ prompt to learn more about what should be covered for each of the following:

  • The competent person who will be responsible for ensuring the plan is carried out
  • Procedures for restricting access to minimize exposures when respirators are required
  • Training that will be conducted
  • Housekeeping activities
  • Medical surveillance

There is also space for the company name, the project name and description, the person who is completing the plan, and space for other information the user would like to include in their plan. (Figure 3)

At each step, the contractor can go back and edit their plan.  While registering is not required to use the planning tool, contractors that register can confidentially save their plans.  Saved plans can be retrieved and edited in the future.  Registration only requires an email address—no company or personal identifiers are collected—and all plans are completely confidential.

Figure 3

Once Step 3 is completed, clicking on the green “Complete” button generates a complete written exposure control plan that can be emailed, saved as a PDF, printed—and if the contractor has registered—saved for future use.  (Figure 4)

Figure 4

This new standard also includes some unique provisions, including new approaches to specified control methods and medical monitoring. CPWR has developed resources to help workers and contractors understand what these provisions mean and how to comply.

Specified Control Method or Table 1

What is Table 1?  Other health standards require employers to conduct air monitoring—in other words, to take samples of the air workers breathe to make sure they are not being exposed to a substance, in this case silica, above the permissible exposure level (PEL) allowed by OSHA.  In this standard, OSHA included another option referred to as the “specified control method” or Table 1.  Table 1 lays out specific types of equipment, work practices, and respiratory protection, which, if fully and properly implemented, relieves the employer of having to do air monitoring.  To help employers and workers use Table 1, CPWR developed Table 1 – Equipment Names and Best Practice Tips.  This document includes OSHA requirements and tips from manufacturers, workers and contractors for how to implement the equipment-controls listed.

Medical Monitoring

OSHA also included a new approach to medical monitoring and reporting in this standard.  Employers must provide a medical exam to employees who are required to wear a respirator for 30 days or more per year, because they are performing work covered by the standard.  The exam must be offered:

  1. Within the first 3 days of being assigned work covered by the standard; and
  2. Every three years after the initial exam, if the worker is still required to wear a respirator for 30 days or more per year under the standard. Even if you wear a respirator for a short period of time during a day, that time counts as a day.

When you have this exam, the health care provider will provide you with a detailed medical report that explains the test results.  The employer only receives a medical opinion that includes the date of the exam, a statement that the exam met the requirements of the standard, and any limits on your use of a respirator.  The health professional cannot provide the employer with any other medical information without your permission.  This provision was included in the standard to protect workers’ privacy and encourage workers to have the exams.  When you have the exam, the employer is required to give you a copy of the medical opinion

It is important that you keep your copy of the medical opinion so that you can use it to show future employers that you have had the exam and avoid unnecessary exams and tests.  The CPWR Medical Monitoring Under the OSHA Silica Standard for the Construction Industry – Guide for Employers was developed to help employers understand the requirements, but it can also answer questions that you may have.  There’s also a Physician’s Alert on silicosis and silica-related illnesses that we encourage you to bring to your health care provider to make sure that you are properly diagnosed and treated.

For quick references to help you understand the silica hazard and ways to protect yourself, see CPWR’s Hazard Alert Card (Advertencia de Peligro) or Toolbox Talk (Español).

If you still have questions or want to share information about new equipment and work practices that you are seeing on the job to control silica dust, please email