OSHA cracks down on silica violations


Orion Construction recently created the role of director of field operations to ensure contractors are up to date with codes, safety procedures and certifications. Courtesy Orion Construction

The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration instituted new penalties for construction companies.

In January, OSHA adjusted the fines construction companies have to pay for violating the new crystalline silica standard that was first implemented in 2013.

Construction companies will have to pay $12,934 per violation, $12,934 per day if companies fail to make the necessary changes and up to $129,336 per repeated violations, per OSHA.

Within the past five years, Norm Brady, president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Western Michigan Chapter, said OSHA has made a significant change to the safety protocols in regard to crystalline silica, which is the dust that is generated from cutting concrete, sawing bricks, sanding/drilling into concrete walls, or fracking.

According to OSHA, 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica. It can result in lung cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and silicosis.

“As you breathe that in, over time it clogs up … nodules in your lungs, and then you have a very difficult time breathing, and eventually, you suffocate and you die,” Brady said. “It is a very terrible disease, you see it on TV a lot, mesothelioma. These are hazards that, over time, we’ve become aware of it.”

Now, Brady said contractors have to wet cut the concrete to prevent dust from getting in the air. However, if the concrete can’t be wet cut, then Brady said workers must wear a respiratory mask that is fit tested to make sure it is sealed.

Grand Rapids-based Orion Construction recently created a new role, director of field operations, currently filled by Bret Mackey. Mackey is charged with ensuring Orion’s contractors are up to date with field codes, safety procedures and certifications. Mackey also conducts training sessions that revolve around silica hazards.

“We provide a 60-minute video and a one-hour training session on the OSHA code,” Mackey said. “We then mandate that all contractors watch the video, also. The video discusses how to deal with products containing silica and how to work with it. The 60-minute lecture is to explain the fines and what OSHA is looking for.”

Mackey said it is valuable to their employees and contractors because of the effects of being exposed to high amounts of silica, but it also informs the staff of the fines that could potentially put the company out of business

“OSHA has increased their fines exponentially, and they are hammering the new silica rule,” Mackey said.

According to the latest data available from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 5,190 construction workers were killed on the job in 2016. That resulted in an average of 14 construction-related deaths per day nationally.

“Safety on a job site is a full-time job and Orion’s No. 1 goal,” Mackey said.

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