Contractors Receive Hundreds of Silica Dust Citations as OSHA Cracks Down

The agency has assessed more than $450,000 in penalties.

Since OSHA began full enforcement of its respirable crystalline silica (RCS) standard in October 2017, contractors have been hit with 276 violations to the tune of $454,699.11 in penalties, according to statistics obtained from the Department of Labor. And that’s not including violations issued in the 26 states that have their own OSHA-approved plans and carry out their own enforcement.

The provision of the standard most frequently cited, 1926.1153(d)(2)(i)), requires employers to assess employees’ exposure or potential exposure to RCS, the tiny breathable particles produced from cutting, grinding or drilling materials such as sand, concrete, stone and mortar. The 65 violations of this rule carried penalties totaling more than $56,700.

The largest total penalties — $192,437 were assessed for provision 1926.1153(c)(1), which requires contractors to fully implement engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protection for specific tasks that could expose workers to RCS, which can lead to serious lung disease. The equipment covered in this section includes all types of saws, drills (rig-mounted, and handheld, including rotary and impact, etc.), jackhammers, power chippers, milling machines, grinders, crushing machines and heavy equipment and utility vehicles used for fracturing, grading, excavation and demolition with silica-containing materials.

Other top violations cited to date include:

Failure to have a written exposure control plan. OSHA issued 47 citations for 926.1153(g)(1), yielding $80,532 in penalties. Such a plan must describe the workplace tasks that involve exposure to RCS; the engineering controls, work practices, respiratory protection and housekeeping measures used to limit employee exposure; and the procedures used to restrict access to work areas when necessary.

Failure to properly communicate with employees about RCS hazards. OSHA issued 20 citations and assessed $29,091 in penalties for provision 1926.1153(i)(1). This standard covers labels on containers of RCS-containing materials, safety data sheets and training. It also requires employers to address the potential hazards of RCS, including cancer and its impact on lungs, the immune system and kidneys.

Failure to institute a respiratory protection program for RCS. OSHA issued 12 citations for provision 1926.1153(e)(2), leading to $18,689 in penalties.

Failure to ensure that employees can demonstrate required knowledge and understanding. Under provision 1926.1153(i)(2)(i), employees must know and understand the health hazards associated with RCS exposure, specific tasks that could result in exposure, measures implemented to protect them from exposure and the identity of the competent person designated by the employer. OSHA has imposed $14,599 in fines for 11 violations of this provision.

To help contractors comply with the silica dust rules, OSHA recently released an FAQ page and a series of videos demonstrating the use of dust control methods for six tasks. It also published the Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction, which provides more in-depth explanations of the various provisions plus information on how companies can ensure they’re doing everything they should to protect their workers from breathing in silica dust.

To learn more about silica dust removal, visit https://content.unitedrentals.com/local-dustless.

Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.