There is a buzz of information swirling around the concrete industry regarding the new OSHA guidelines. OSHA has put in place Permissible Exposure Limits or PEL’s for respirable crystalline silica dust which would require employers, general contractors, and any concrete workers to monitor and regulate exposure to this invisible killer. Crystalline silica dusts, especially those particles less than five thousandths of a millimeter, are invisible to the naked eye and can penetrate into the deepest part of the lungs. This makes it difficult to exhale and expel these tiny particles, which in turn can cause scar tissue to form resulting in a wide variety of diseases like COPD, silicosis, and lung cancer. Other hazardous substances, such as asbestos and quartz dust, act the same way and cannot be broken down by our bodies or expelled manually.
So, what are you supposed to do to ensure the safety of your employees and contractors? The answer is simple. A dust control plan can be put in place and implemented by your safety officer, foreman, or site superintendent rather easily.
A document with the following information would be the first place to start:

  • Project Name
  • Address
  • Physical Location
  • Property Owner
  • Developer
  • General Contractor

First and foremost, identify who has the primary responsibility of implementing your dust plan. Create a detailed list of possible dust sources to include sawing, grinding, polishing, concrete applications, core drilling activities, sanding, and even earth moving activities, to name a few. Once these activities are identified the superintendent or general contractor (GC) may ask the specific contractor their mediation solution whether it be source extraction or a water solution, which ever follows the BMP’s for that particular trade. A copy of your plan should be made available to all the subcontractors and vendors. The plan can be placed on your company’s website, as well as distributed electronically or physically at the precon meetings. I would discuss it with your project engineers and place notes on the plan siting specific BMP’s for dust control activities. If a problem does arise, you can easily site the plans, precon meeting, and posted documents to defend your position. This will also show any OSHA inspectors that you are proactively working towards compliance for the upcoming rule change, which is slated for June 2017.
After talking with some construction personnel ranging from the mom and pop shops to large GC outfits, the general response has been “another government control implemented to cost me money and slow me down.” Which got me thinking , it’s been decades since I was the kid hanging on to a 14-inch chop saw with no mask, no safety goggles, and definitely no plan to limit my exposure to a now known killer and carcinogen. We worked demolition with a paper mask, tearing through buildings with open ROP excavators and skid steers, as our main focus was pounded into our psyche “time is money.” This was passed down from a generation of workhorse contractors. Our fathers who showed us the ropes, used pay phones and yellow tablets, and kept their project management software in their head. They provided for their families and formed relationships on handshakes and gentleman’s agreements. My have times changed.
Technology has changed how we do business; a digital 24-hour cycle keeps us cranking out products and materials at a furious pace. A safe, dust-free environment is easily obtained in today’s construction industry. We have the ability to protect our employees and the environment with little overall expense and embrace the idea of a healthy business. We can use the specialty equipment specifically designed to keep employees safe, protect the environment, and increase productivity. Like all change, people will be inclined to “push back“ and argue about the guidelines sighting tradition and routine. I believe if we nudge the industry forward with education and training, the new generation of project managers, general contractors, and superintendents will embrace the idea of a safer, dust-free workplace, which is better for all of us. ■
About the Author:  Scott Dickinson is the construction technical sales representative for Dustcontrol and can be reached at 910.395.1808, email, or visit
Modern Contractor Solutions – May 2016
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