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September 23, 2017, is the date for the construction industry to comply with the OSHA standard to limit exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust during jackhammer operation.
The U.S. Department of Labor first became aware of this issue in the 1930s. But it wasn’t until 1971—when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created—that formal standards were established to limit exposure to silica dust. Since then, the existing standards have proven inadequate for worker protection in the modern workplace, as construction materials and projects continued to increase in number, size and scope. In 2013, OSHA began the elaborate process of accumulating current scientific data, industry consensus and standards, and input from stakeholders to develop the final rule.
Jackhammers break and chip apart building materials such as bricks, clay, concrete, mortar, rock, stone and many other materials common to work sites. These materials frequently contain silica, an abundant, naturally occurring compound. When forcibly ejected from the work object by the jackhammer, the silica dust suspends in the air, exposing the tool operator and other workers to the hazards of inhaling RCS. The dust can embed in the lungs and other organs, causing long term debilitating health issues and/or premature death.
The OSHA standard considers a “wet method” of dust suppression an effective tactic in a properly deployed strategy. The wet method suppresses dust by spraying a constant and appropriate volume of water directly onto the tip of the jackhammer where it meets the work object. The water grounds the dust before it becomes an airborne health hazard. NOTE: Pre-wetting the work area is ineffective and does not comply with the standard.