OSHA Citations for Silica Exposure
Members should be aware that several contractors around the country (not just MCAA members) have been cited by OSHA inspectors for violations of the existing Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for silica notwithstanding the fact that these inspectors had NO exposure data to justify the citation. This is a violation of OSHA policy!
It is also likely that an MCAA member in Maine would have been cited for a violation of the PEL had it not been for the fact that the company had recently completed exposure testing for a number of specific tasks and the results indicated exposures were below the PEL.
In this particular instance, an OSHA inspector went on this member's job site and noticed that during mortar mixing by one employee, a lot of dust was being kicked up. The inspector asked the job foreman why the employee was not wearing a face mask because it was obvious to him (the inspector) that the PEL was likely being exceeded. In other words, the inspector made a presumption that on the basis of all the dust in the air, it must be respirable silica dust, that the employee therefore was at risk and the PEL was being exceeded.
OSHA POLICY PROHIBITS THE ISSUANCE OF CITATIONS UNLESS THE AGENCY HAS EXPOSURE DATA TO BACK IT UP!
Therefore, my recommendation to you as contractors is to be aware of these citations and alert your safety directors and job superintendents to the problem. Your superintendents need to know that inspectors cannot issue citations for violations of the PEL unless and until the proper exposure assessments have been performed. Also, if you have done any testing recently and have the results, it might not be a bad idea to keep those results on the job site or at least alert your job superintendents to the fact that the information on exposure testing is available.
MCAA is in the process of collecting examples of these citations and intends to push OSHA to issue a directive to all field inspectors that these citations are a violation of policy and cannot be issued with first collecting exposure data. These citations cost contractors time and money. Field inspectors must not be allowed to be both judge and jury and we must not allow OSHA to think that just because the citations are ultimately lifted the problem automatically goes away.
If you have been cited for a violation of the PEL without data first being collected or know of other instances, please get the documentation to me as soon as possible.
Thanks for your assistance. If you have any questions about this, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-671-4468.
About the Author
Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.