OSHA, Silica and the Construction Industry

A critical deadline is approaching for the construction industry:
Employers have until September to comply with OSHA’s strict new regulations concerning crystalline silica dust.

Crystalline silica is found widely in construction materials such as concrete, cement, mortar, brick and stone. When these materials are cut, drilled or ground, they produce dust that may contain small, respirable particles of crystalline silica, which has been linked to serious respiratory diseases like silicosis and COPD.

In 2016, OSHA announced a drastic change to the regulations for silica dust exposure. This change, aimed to protect workers, slashes the exposure limit by 80%. What that means is, effective September 23, 2017, the maximum amount of respirable crystalline silica that workers are allowed to encounter is one-fifth of the former limit. As a result, employers in the construction industry are scrambling to comply with the tight standard before the deadline.

Although the new regulations are very detailed, OSHA has tried to make compliance straightforward by providing specific requirements for the dust control methods needed for each work task. For example, when cutting with handheld power saws, like the Norton Clipper CP514-350i, workers must use an “integrated water delivery system that continuously feeds water to the blade” in order to suppress dust. [1]

Identical controls are needed when using walk-behind saws, core drills, and stationary masonry saws. In addition, depending on the work task and environment, employees may be required to wear respiratory protection.

The full list of work tasks and safety requirements is available on the OSHA website. Reading the list, it becomes apparent that wet systems are usually required, but for jobs that demand dry cutting or drilling, this presents a problem: How can workers comply with OSHA and still get the job done?

Well, OSHA has given employers the option to use their own dust control methods— for example, dry vacuum systems — provided these employers “assess and limit the exposure of the employee to respirable crystalline silica in accordance with [the standard].” [1] This is a cumbersome task, but it will be necessary when water is out of the question.

Like many OSHA changes in the past, the new silica standard will cause an entire industry to adapt, and those who can provide the right information, tools and equipment to construction workers will be in high demand.

If you or your customers have questions related to the new standard, we encourage you to read the helpful links below, or to contact the Norton Product Safety Department directly.



Helpful links

  • OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Rule: Construction -- click here
  • OSHA’s Silica Homepage -- click here



  1. OSHA regulation 29 CFR 1926.1153, accessed online at https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=1270