New Silica Standard – Competent Person Requirements

Cal/OSHA has promulgated a new standard for respirable crystalline silica that is substantially similar to Federal OSHA’s new rules for silica.  Cal/OSHA’s requirements can be found under Title 8 section 1532.3 of the California Code of Regulations.  Federal OSHA decided to delay enforcement of the silica rule so that it has more time to provide guidance to employers due to the unique nature of the requirements.  Cal/OSHA has decided to follow this lead and will not enforce the new requirements until September 23, 2017.

The Cohen Group in previous blogs and newsletter has discussed many of the elements of the new standard.  However, one item which requires further discussion is the requirement for a competent person.  Related to the competent person, the employer must establish and implement a written exposure control plan which contains the following the elements:

  • A description of the tasks that involve exposure to respirable crystalline silica;
  • A description of the engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protection used to limit employee exposure to each task;
  • A description of the housekeeping measures used to limit employee exposure;
  • A description of the procedures used to restrict access to work areas to minimize number of employees exposed to respirable silica dust and their level of exposure including exposures generated by other employers.

The employer must designate a competent person in the written exposure control plan to make frequent and regular inspections of job sites, materials and equipment to implement the written exposure.  It appears, that if an employer has employees exposed to silica that is generated by another employer, they too would need to have a written exposure control plan and thus a competent person.

A Competent Person is defined as an individual who is capable of identifying existing and foreseeable respirable silica hazards and has authorization to take prompt corrective action to eliminate them or minimize them.  The competent person must have the knowledge and ability necessary to fulfill the responsibilities indicated in the written exposure control plan.  As required in the standard all employees (including the competent person) must be trained and have knowledge and understanding of:

  • Health hazards associated with exposure to respirable silica;
  • Specific tasks that could result in exposure;
  • Specific control measures including engineering, work practices and respirators and;
  • Contents of the standard.

In addition to the above requirements, we recommend that the competent person be trained and able to conduct the following:

  • Anticipate the potential for worker silica exposure;
  • Make initial evaluation of the workplace for potential silica exposure;
  • Select, implement and manage the appropriate control strategies or obtain the assistance of an industrial hygienist for more complex situations;
  • Understand engineering control methods including local exhaust and wet methods and understand the critical features for controls to be effective (e.g., portable local exhaust – duct velocity and location; wet methods – water flow rate, point of application). However, at this time, water control seems to be the only accepted control unless objective air monitoring data is obtained for other controls including local exhaust; Understand and potentially identify situations that could result in higher exposures (e.g., enclosed areas, improper technique, etc.);
  • Basic understanding of respiratory protection.

The Competent Person approach (which is identifying a company representative with sufficient knowledge and experience; often an existing employee or another individual already at or traveling to the jobsite) has been used by OSHA in a number of its Construction standards to help ensure that hazards of various types are correctly recognized and controlled at jobsites.  For example, competent persons are required by construction standards for the review of scaffolding, trenching, fall protection, confined spaces, and asbestos.  The competent person for silica is often a supervisor or job site lead who has had specialized training in silica exposure recognition and control.  The competent person must be on-site at least on a regular basis. In addition to proper training an important aspect is that the competent person must have the authority to take corrective action as necessary.

The Cohen Group can assist in all aspects of compliance with the silica standard, including air monitoring, recommending and evaluating controls, training, including the competent person.  Tim Bormann, CIH was a co-author of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) document titled Recommended Skills and Capabilities for Silica Competent Persons.  This document provides a good summary of the training and expertise a competent person should possess when dealing with silica.  As stated in the document “Competent person provisions can add to confidence that controls are being used effectively and that someone on the jobsite knows how to call in an industrial hygienist for more complex or unusual scenarios.”