5 critical OSHA silica compliance tips

How to equip your plant for optimal OSHA silica compliance

Anh-Tai Vuong
Featured in this article Anh-Tai Vuong President of DuroVac
Fine Powder
Jun 2019

Since its inception in 2016, the new silica standard set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) made two things clear: crystalline silica is hazardous to your health, and employers must make real changes to protect workers from those dangers.

For employers in the construction and industrial sectors, the stakes are clear: failure to comply means risking hefty fines from OSHA or facing a costly shut down — not to mention putting employees at risk.

What’s not so clear is how to improve processes for optimal compliance. Here’s a guide on what to look for, how to equip your plant and how to prevent silica contamination before it gets out of hand.

1. Watch exposure limits

OSHA’s rule sets two specific limits for crystalline silica exposure averaged over an eight-hour day: an action level of 25 µg/m3 and a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3.

To keep track, OSHA mandates exposure assessments, or third-party analyses aimed at uncovering problem areas in your plant. The assessments are required if your monitoring efforts show silica exposure above the limits; the frequency of follow-up assessments depend on whether exposure exceeds the action level or PEL. OSHA outlines the conditions in more detail.

According to Anh-Tai Vuong, President of Corporate Sales and Business Development at DuroVac, sometimes the need for silica control is self-evident.

He says, “If you walk into a room and you can’t see the other end because it’s so dusty, you have an issue on your hands.”

2. Put the right engineering controls in place

Engineering controls are used to limit silica emissions at the source. They can include the layout of your facility, your choice of equipment and accessories, and plant ventilation.

“Engineering controls is a broad term,” says Vuong. “It encompasses everything that is designed and engineered to keep silica away from human beings.”

A vacuum system equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter is one key example of an engineering control that maximizes silica compliance. Thanks to the filter’s small pore size, vacuums like DuroVac’s PowerLife® handle crystalline silica with 99.9 percent efficiency down to 0.3 microns.

“The silica crystal is very small in particle size,” says Vuong. "We need that filtration efficiency to capture as many of the silica crystals as possible."

3. Keep up with equipment upgrades and maintenance

For the most consistent silica protection, it’s important to keep equipment up-to-date and in good shape. A HEPA filter, for instance, should be replaced every two years.

If your existing vacuum comes equipped with a standard filter and you work with crystalline silica, it’s time to upgrade to HEPA filtration.

At DuroVac, standard filtration uses epitropic felt media coated with ePTFE (Teflon). It works at 98 percent efficiency down to 0.3 microns or 99.5 percent down to 0.5 microns. That may seem like a minute difference, but Vuong adds, “We need HEPA filtration to be just that much more efficient at capturing the silica crystals."

4. Adopt cleaner work practices

The OSHA rule prohibits the use of dry sweeping, dry brushing and compressed air to clean clothing or surfaces.

“If you’re using a broom, probably the lowest-tech device there is, you run the risk of lifting all the dust into the air,” Vuong explains. Prohibited work practices are less likely to eliminate silica and more likely to whisk it up into your workers’ airways.

In cases where engineering controls or work practices can’t keep exposures under the PEL, you should provide workers with respirators or masks — but only as a last resort.

5. Be consistent with training and housekeeping

When it comes to protecting workers from silica, training is key. That means educating them about the dangers of crystalline silica, where it comes from and how to limit exposure. Workers should also be trained to operate any vacuums or other equipment you’ve introduced since the OSHA rule was set.

“One of the strengths of our vacuum systems is that they’re easy to use and maintain,” adds Vuong. “That said, we always recommend some training to use our products.”

We need that filtration efficiency to capture as many of the silica crystals as possible.

Anh-Tai Vuong President, Corporate Sales & Business Development

When silica is present, you have to consistently keep work areas clean. That’s easier to do when your vacuum system is outfitted with features that work well with your plant layout, such as a forklift-portable design.

Lastly, to stay consistent and accountable, keep a regular cleaning schedule and record all of your actions in a historical log, including all monitoring and exposure assessment results.

Following the path to silica protection

Vuong emphasizes that any action you take to reduce silica exposure is a step in the right direction.

“The recommendation is to equip yourself with something rather than doing nothing — that’s the first step in this initiative,” he says.

With that in mind, make sure you have the right vacuum system to make quick work of silica in your facility. Contact a DuroVac rep for details.