In September 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report entitled “Severe Silicosis in Engineered Stone Fabrication Workers — California, Colorado, Texas and Washington, 2017–2019.” National Public Radio (NPR) followed up on that report by issuing several articles referencing silicosis cases in the U.S. and other countries.
The threat of silica exposure is not a new story. However, these reports are a strong reminder that stone companies must be diligent about reducing the risks to workers. The Natural Stone Institute recommends the following.
1. Monitor Employee Exposure.
Start by conducting baseline testing to determine exposure limits and risks. These tests can be conducted by third-party providers and/or by requesting assistance from regulatory agencies. In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) includes monitoring when a company participates in the voluntary inspection program. This program is well known by fabricators who have gone through the process of becoming accredited by the Natural Stone Institute.
Do not assume that wet cutting is enough. Obtain baseline testing data for your facility.
2. Develop a Plan.
The Natural Stone Institute safety committee has customized OSHA’s silica exposure control plan template to align better with the stone industry. That template should be downloaded by every stone company who doesn’t currently have a plan of action.
3. Train your employees.
The inventory of available resources in the Natural Stone University includes:
• Sample Silica Exposure Control Plan (template developed for fabricators in accordance with OSHA ruling 29 CFR 1910.1053)
• Silicosis Prevention Handbook
— Silicosis: An Industry Guide to Awareness
— Silica Exposure Standard and OSHA Compliance
— Silica Overview: Causes of Silicosis
— Silica Testing: Baseline Testing for Individuals and Facilities
— Silicosis Prevention: Worker Safety Precautions
• Toolbox Talks:
— What Is Crystalline Silica?
— Crystalline Silica Exposure Prevention
• Our team will soon release two new webinars to further assist stone companies:
— Implementing a Silica Exposure Control Plan for Your Company
— How to use the OSHA Voluntary Inspection Program to Monitor Silica Exposure
These resources will be packaged into an online certificate that also provides training materials for safe slab handling and creating a safety program. For more information, go to www.uofstone.org.
A final note: Silica exposure is a threat to workers and not consumers due to the limited amount of time the cutting may occur in a home. As you field inquiries from consumers about this subject, please remind your audience that this is a workplace safety issue.
Learn more at www.naturalstoneinstitute.org/silica.