OSHA Increases Enforcement in Engineered Stone Fabrication, Installation Industries

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently launched a focused enforcement and compliance initiative to protect workers from silica exposure in the engineered stone fabrication and installation industries. OSHA will conduct targeted inspections to ensure employers in these industries are following applicable safety standards and providing workers with required protections.  

History 

Exposure to silica has previously been identified as a health hazard to workers involved in manufacturing, finishing and installing natural and manufactured stone. When inhaled, very small crystalline silica particles expose workers to the risk of silicosis, an incurable, progressively disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease, according to OSHA. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease can also result from unsafe exposure to silica dust, according to the agency.

A study published on the JAMA Network in July 2023 called further attention to the dangers of exposure to silica dust in the workplace. The study reported on 52 patients who were diagnosed with silicosis caused by occupational exposure to respirable silica dust from engineered stone. Twenty of the patients had advanced disease (progressive massive fibrosis), 11 were referred for lung transplants and 10 died. According to the study, an estimated 100,000 stone fabricators in the U.S. are at potential risk for silicosis associated with exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

Workers At Risk for Exposure to Silica Dust

According to OSHA, the highest silica levels are associated with manufactured countertops, where crystalline silica is mixed with resins, adhesives and pigments. Depending on the type of stone in question, these countertops may contain over 90% silica. Workers in the stone countertop industry saw, grind, polish and drill slabs of natural and manufactured stone as part of the process of manufacturing, finishing and installing countertops. In addition, production operators, inspectors and staff who perform maintenance and housekeeping activities in engineered stone manufacturing facilities may be exposed to hazardous levels of airborne silica-containing dust, according to OSHA.  

Scope of Industries Impacted

OSHA’s prioritized programmed inspections primarily impact employers in the “Cut Stone and Stone Product Manufacturing” and “Brick, Stone and Related Construction Material Merchant Wholesalers” categories. Employers in these categories may be selected for a prioritized inspection if they meet one of the following criteria: 

  • They manufacture and/or finish engineered or manufactured stone products at their facility. Activities may include: cutting, grinding, chipping, sanding, drilling and polishing engineered or manufactured stone products; opening bags of ground quartz, moving or mixing bulk raw materials, cleaning and scraping mixers, or cleaning dust collector bag houses; changing filters on dust collectors; making engineered or cultured slabs, which involves mixing crystalline silica, resins and pigments; operating powered hand tools, such as saws, grinders and high-speed polishers; mixing and heating raw materials including silica sand, epoxy resin, PA (a known respiratory sensitizer) and pigments.
  • They finish and/or install engineered or manufactured stone products off-site.

OSHA stated it will focus on ensuring employers in covered industries follow required safety standards and provide workers with the protections required to keep them healthy. Inspections will be prioritized to identify and ensure prompt abatement of hazards. Outreach efforts will continue to include additional industries that may work with engineered stone. As part of the initiative, OSHA is sending affected employers and stakeholders fact sheets on dust control methods and safer work practices for engineered stone manufacturing, finishing and installation operations.

The Takeaway

Given OSHA’s increased focus on enforcement and the safety risks associated with silica dust exposure, it is vital that employers in the engineered stone industries review OSHA silica dust standards 1910.1053 and 1926.1153 as well as their compliance program to ensure they have a robust system in place to protect their workers from hazardous

Sheehy, Ware, Pappas & Grubbs can assist you with the complex OSHA compliance process and help you assert your rights throughout the OSHA inspection process. Few firms in the United States match our expertise in OSHA matters. Our OSHA attorneys have represented hundreds of clients in OSHA investigations, and we are able to perform 24/7 rapid response on-site coordination with our clients, often arriving before the OSHA inspector. For assistance with your OSHA matter, contact the OSHA attorneys at Sheehy, Ware, Pappas & Grubbs.