DUST TO DUST: New dust safety requirements will change your grinder and breaker fleet

Concerns about worker exposure to dust are driving new safety standards.
Jack Kohane
May 16, 2017
By Jack Kohane
With tough new measures coming into force in the U.S., makers of grinders and saws for concrete are making sure to include dust collection or water system options for their equipment.
With tough new measures coming into force in the U.S., makers of grinders and saws for concrete are making sure to include dust collection or water system options for their equipment.
On-the-job exposure to noxious dust particles can be a killer. “Workers in Canada need to be informed of the hazards they may be exposed to, examples of control methods that can be used, and the next steps they should take,” says Tallar Chouljian, occupational health and safety specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), which advocates for workplace health and safety.


“Every jurisdiction in Canada has specific requirements in place as to what needs to be done in the workplace in order to ensure worker safety,” notes Chouljian, who is based in Hamilton, Ont. “Most of the information can be found in the jurisdictional health and safety regulations, except for Ontario, which has regulations based on the type of industry.” Other provinces may have the requirement for a control program, including a variety of elements such as actual control measures, monitoring plans, personal records, and training. Each jurisdiction also has specific penalties or fines issued by the enforcement agency. These fines or penalties can be imposed on the employer, supervisor or the worker should they not comply with the health and safety regulation.

According to Chouljian, the current maximum fine resulting from a ticket or summons is $1,000, though most violations are subject to a set fine, which generally do not exceed $300. “A successful prosecution, though, may result in more severe penalties; individuals may be subject to a fine of $25,000 or imprisonment, while corporations may be fined up to $500,000,” she points out.

In addition to the much-dreaded asbestos, one of the most silent and deadly carcinogens is silica dust, most pervasive in construction industries. About 380,000 Canadians are exposed to silica at work. Inhalation, particularly of silica dust particles, is the most important route of exposure. And silica, notable as one of the most common minerals in the earth’s crust (and a major component of sand, rock and mineral ores), means hiding from its ill effects is a major challenge for construction industries and for rental retailers who service them.

“Employers have a duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to ensure the protection of any worker in the workplace who is exposed to silica,” urges Jeff Thorne, manager of training and consulting for the Occupational Safety Group (OSG) in London, Ont. Silica in Ontario is a designated substance known to cause numerous health effects, namely silicosis. It can also cause lung cancer or other irreversible lung diseases. It is the crystalline form of silica that is the main concern. Silica is found on almost every construction job-site; cutting, breaking, crushing, drilling or blasting of concrete or stone releases the dust. Workers exposed without the proper protection breathe in the dust and it settles in the lungs.

“Precautions focus on a designated assessment and control program,” explains Thorne. The assessment explores the methods and procedures used in the processing, use, handling and storage of silica and the measures and procedures that are necessary to control exposure by means of engineering controls, work practices and hygiene facilities and practices. “The employer carries out the assessment in consultation with the joint health and safety committee and the committee may make recommendations respecting the assessment,” he adds. In Ontario, when it comes to exposure to silica dust, employers must reduce OELs (occupational exposure limits) as low as reasonably achievable without giving regard to respiratory equipment. However, there may be many reasons why this is not possible in certain cases. Engineering controls could prevent dust-mitigation measures. Controlling dust may create work practices that are not reasonable or practical. Even with effective dust control, the length of time or the frequency of the exposure might still create problems. In any of these instances, the employer must provide respiratory protection to the worker.

Most provinces have requirements similar to Ontario to ensure that the OELs are reduced as low as reasonably achievable. British Columbia looked at putting a specific silica regulation in place, which went into draft but was withdrawn until further changes can be made. Saskatchewan has specific requirements that must be followed for silica processing and abrasive blasting found in Part XXIV of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. The regulation applies to sandblasting, cleaning of castings, cutting, splitting, grinding, milling, sieving or mechanical manipulation of gravel, stone or rock.

In all provinces, employers must ensure areas where silica dust can accumulate are regularly vacuumed or, if that is not practical, then wet methods are used. Where dust cannot be prevented from entering the air, workers must be isolated from the air containing the dust. And if OELs cannot be reduced, workers must use approved respiratory equipment and protective coveralls and headgear to reduce exposure.

Because today’s hi-tech concrete drills, saws and grinders produce a lot of dust, the American health and safety authorities have put new regulations in place to try to limit the amount of dust – especially silica dust – that workers inhale and are exposed to. In June 2016 the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enacted new standards to curb lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in workers by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica. In the U.S., the 80-per cent reduction in exposure limits is posing a challenge, though many employers have previously adopted lower limits. OSHA has been working on updating the standard for over 10 years and it’s proven a significant undertaking to update the regulations.

There seems to be no dust-up among equipment manufacturers towards the new regulations. “The exposure limits required by the recent U.S. Federal OSHA standard (50 micrograms per cubic metre) are similar to the Canadian standards (typically either 50 or 25 micrograms, depending on the province),” says Marty Schofield, vice-president of product safety/liability for Hilti. “Some provinces have additional requirements, such as the need for written exposure control plans and engineering controls, which are also now required in the U.S.”

Asked what kinds of equipment rental service operators need to be recommending that will keep their customers on the right side of these regulations, Schofield replies that, in general, engineering controls are required to minimize exposure to airborne respirable silica. Power tool systems incorporating engineering controls use either water delivery (common on gas saws and core drill rigs) or dust collection ( such as the vacuum-based systems for grinders and drills). “While the dust-reduction efficiency of systems vary, there are concepts which are generally beneficial and it’s also important to properly and regularly maintain control systems to achieve optimum performance,” he continues.

Tougher regulations require innovative tools. The DD250, Hilti’s new diamond coring tool, is a rig-based wet drilling system with a drilling range of 1/2 to 18 inches. “Because the Hilti DD250 is used for wet coring applications it is compliant with the OSHA 1926.1153 standard for respirable crystalline silica dust,” states Schofield.

Mark Michaels also welcomes OSHA’s new rules on crystalline silica exposure. “It defines the amount of dust permissible, which gives all contractors and manufacturers more defined numbers to work towards,” nods the director of product management for Husqvarna Construction Products Americas. “Almost all of our equipment lines already come equipped with water systems. Take power cutters for example. Most feature DEX, a dust management system that controls water flow and therefore minimizes water consumption and slurry. The main benefit to contractors may be in the use of portable water tanks, such as spray bottles.” Husqvarna also has a battery-powered four-gallon tank, the WT 15, that provides continual pressure for water delivery. For vacuums, the company’s new dust and slurry management line of small to large three-phase HEPA dust extractors can be paired with a range of equipment. Electric, gas, and propane versions are offered to allow flexibility for operators to adapt to their particular work site. Husqvarna also offers a line of air scrubbers to help supplement air circulation and cleaning on indoor job sites or locations with poor air circulation.

To help rental retailers educate their construction industry clients, Husqvarna has just released an OSHA Silica Compliance Guide. “The guide is separated into our different product lines and shows how our product lines can help comply with the applicable portion of OSHA’s Table 1,” says Michaels.

“Silica is present on every job site, and it is known that health effects take time to develop and once they are detected they are irreversible.” says OSG’s Thorne.


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