The OSHA final rule governing respirable crystalline silica calls for all covered employers to maintain a written exposure control plan.
But what exactly needs to be in this plan? Who should create or update it? How should it be used?
This guide will try to provide some clarification as to exactly what OSHA is looking for.
First of all, why do we need this plan? What is OSHA expecting it to do?
In the rule, OSHA says the purpose of the plan is to “help limit exposure to respirable crystalline silica to as few employees as possible.”
Elsewhere in the rule, OSHA says: “Written exposure control plans provide a systematic approach for ensuring proper function of engineering controls and effective work practices that can prevent overexposures from occurring. OSHA expects a written exposure control plan will be instrumental in ensuring that employers comprehensively and consistently protect their employees.”
Based on this, it looks as though OSHA wants to see a systematic, centralized, updated index of steps and practices to minimize or eliminate exposure to respirable crystalline silica. In other words, your written exposure control plan is your main list of everything you’re doing onsite to protect workers from silica dust.
In more detail, what exactly has to be in this written exposure control plan?
According to OSHA, your written exposure control plan must contain at least the following four elements:
- “A description of the tasks in the workplace that involve exposure to respirable crystalline silica”
- “A description of the engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection used to limit employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica for each task”
- “A description of the housekeeping measures used to limit employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica
- “A description of the procedures used to restrict access to work areas, when necessary, to minimize the number of employees exposed to respirable crystalline silica and their level of exposure, including exposures generated by other employers or sole proprietors.”
Your written exposure control plan can also include anything else you think is important about keeping your employees safe from respirable crystalline silica at your worksite.
Do any other requirements accompany the plan?
Yes. OSHA also requires that “the employer shall review and evaluate the effectiveness of the written exposure control plan at least annually and update it as necessary.”
And for the construction industry, there is one additional requirement: “The employer shall designate a competent person to make frequent and regular inspections of job sites, materials, and equipment to implement the written exposure control plan.”
As discussed in prior posts and in the rule itself, OSHA considers a competent person to be “an individual who is capable of identifying existing and foreseeable respirable crystalline silica hazards in the workplace and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate or minimize them.” According to the final rule, a competent person can also have other responsibilities set forth in other parts of the standard.
In the construction scenario, do I need to put the name of my competent person (or competent people) in the written exposure control plan?
No. OSHA is not requiring you to give the identity of the competent person in the written exposure control plan. OSHA says this is because it expects that the person (or persons) will change frequently.
What if an employee asks to read the written exposure control plan?
According to OSHA, you need to make your written exposure control plan “readily available for examination and copying, upon request, to each employee covered.”
OSHA hasn’t clarified exactly how quickly this copy needs to be made/provided, so ask yourself what an inspector might find reasonable.
OSHA has also not clarified if the plan can be maintained electronically, or if only paper copies are acceptable. However, if you choose to pursue an electronic option, our suspicion is that an OSHA inspector would want to see that it is at least as available and accessible as a physical plan would be. But again, this point has not been verified by OSHA.
Who should write the written exposure control plan? Can anybody do it? Do you have to be an expert on silica dust?
So far, OSHA has not addressed this thoroughly. In the final rule, OSHA only says it expects that “a supervisor will develop and update the written exposure control plan.” [Our italics.]
Based on this, it is our suspicion that OSHA will want to see that the author of the plan has some sort of supervisory role. At the very least, the author should not be a new or entry-level employee.
How long should I take to write this plan? Does OSHA give any indicator of how involved the process should be?
Yes. In the final rule, OSHA estimates that writing the written exposure control plan should take businesses:
- “1 hour for establishments with fewer than 20 employees”
- “4 hours for those establishments with between 20 and 499 employees”
- “16 hours for those establishments with 500 or more employees”
OSHA also provides similar guidance around the time it expects will be needed to conduct the (at least) annual review of the effectiveness of the written plan — including making any required updates/changes to it. According to the final rule, OSHA expects that businesses will invest:
- “0.5 hours for establishments with fewer than 20 employees”
- “2 hours for those with between 20 and 499 employees”
- “8 hours for those with 500 or more employees”
I’ve heard of something called a “written access control plan.” Is that the same thing as this written exposure control plan?
No. A written access control plan is a document “which describes specified methods for limiting access to high-exposure areas.” It is not required by the new rule.
In the years leading up to the new silica rule, many in the industry floated the idea of using written access control plans as a replacement for having regulated areas on worksites. Despite discussing this proposal in several places (including in the text of the final rule) OSHA ultimately determined that having access control plans would be “less protective [than regulated areas] and would be difficult to enforce.”
So don’t get confused if you hear or see this term in discussion of the final rule. While it might be a good idea to have a written plan for how you intend to limit employee access to dangerous areas, it is not required by OSHA.
Are there tools in the marketplace to help me meet the requirements of the written exposure control plan?
Yes. VelocityEHS cloud-based EHS management software can provide a central platform from which to manage your responsibilities and address areas that represent institutional risk. You can track and analyze employee tasks that qualify as involving exposure to respirable crystalline silica, and automated alerts can be configured to remind you when it’s time to review and update your plan.
The VelocityEHS suite of solutions gives you the capability to comprehensively manage your written exposure control plan, along with all of the other reporting and EHS management tasks required to comply with the Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule.