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Davis Brown Construction Law Blog

OSHA's New Silica Dust Rule One Year Later - October 30, 2018

In October 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began enforcing its Crystalline Silica Dust Rules (“Silica Rules”) within the construction industry. As we noted last November, the Silica Rules require all contractors that engage in activities that create respirable crystalline dust by cutting, grinding, or blasting materials (such as concrete, stone, and brick) to take measures to reduce the amount of dust workers may inhale. The Silica Rules are important for both general contractors and subcontractors, as general contractors can be fined in certain circumstances when their subcontractors do not comply with the Silica Rules. The Silica Rules impose large fines, including fines that can total up to $12,934 per violation.

The good news is that with the Silica Rules being in effect just over one year, OSHA has yet to issue any state or federal fines in Iowa under the new Rules. More active enforcement in Iowa will likely begin in 2019, and OSHA has issued fines in other parts of the country. According to Bloomberg Environment, at the six-month mark, OSHA had issued 116 fines for violations of the Silica Rules. 35 fines were issued to employers for failing to measure the silica exposure levels at their jobsites. 31 were issued to employers for failing to follow OSHA’s “Table 1,” which details the requirements for how employers are to handle the 18 most common equipment or tasks that are related to creating silica dust.

One notable story involving OSHA’s enforcement of the Silica Rules arose in Buffalo, New York, where OSHA issued a $108,095 fine against a U-Haul company which exposed employees to silica hazards while performing renovation work on one of its storage facilities. In an April 27, 2018 press release, OSHA stated that the U-Haul dealer “failed to provide employees with respiratory protection, protective clothing, and training on asbestos and silica hazards; properly dispose of asbestos-containing materials; have a competent person oversee renovation work; and provide a decontamination room.” 

As a reminder, OSHA has published useful materials to educate contractors on how to comply with the Silica Rules including a summary of the rules and a compliance guide for small entities. Additionally, on August 22, 2018, OSHA released an updated frequently asked questions (FAQs) guide and training videos on the Silica Rules. The FAQs provide employers and workers with guidance on the Silica Rules and include videos that instruct users on methods for controlling exposure to silica dust when performing common construction tasks, or using construction equipment (such as handheld power saws, jackhammers, drills, and grinders).

For assistance on how to comply with the Silica Rules or dealing with potential OSHA violations, please contact Jodie C. McDougal and Abhay M. Nadipuram.

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