This post originally appeared on the TriMedia blog.
The language used in regulations isn’t always straightforward, and while OSHA’s silica standard for construction is designed to be easy to comprehend, it still contains some confusing verbiage and concepts. “Restricted access area” is one example, so in this article we’re going to discuss exactly what it means in the context of the silica standard for construction.
Restricted access areas 101
Describing how you’re going to restrict access to work areas is one of the things you’re required to include in your (also required) written exposure control plan (1926.1153(g)).
Why have restricted access areas?
In the context of the silica rule, a restricted access area is a part of a construction site that only certain personnel can enter due to the heightened risk of silica dust exposure.
The purpose of having restricted access areas on site is to:
- Ensure workers are aware that they could be exposed to silica dust levels above OSHA’s personal exposure limit (PEL) when they enter
- Minimize the number of workers who are exposed to silica dust
- Drive informed decision-making regarding personal protective equipment (PPE)
When do I need to restrict access to a work area?
You might have to deem an area as “restricted” where construction activities kick up dust (and put workers at risk of silica dust exposure). Some examples of risky — and dusty — tasks include:
- Abrasive blasting
- Jackhammering and impact drilling
- Concrete cutting and grinding
- Underground construction work
- Drywall finishing
- Tuck-pointing and grinding
In most cases, you can tell if workers could be exposed above the PEL. For instance, if your workers are engulfed in a cloud of dust, chances are that they are being exposed to high levels of silica dust. But if you’re not sure, conduct air sampling to find out.
How do I mark a restricted access area?
After you determine which area or areas are restricted to certain personnel, you have to mark them. Here are a few examples of ways you can mark off the area:
- Painted lines
- Textured flooring
You must also post clear signage with the following language:
RESPIRABLE CRYSTALLINE SILICA MAY CAUSE CANCER CAUSES DAMAGE TO LUNGS WEAR RESPIRATORY PROTECTION IN THIS AREA AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY
How do I protect workers that enter the restricted access area?
Defining and marking your restricted access areas isn’t enough to protect workers — your employees need to follow appropriate safety protocol when they’re working in those areas.
As such, you should:
- Limit access to restricted access areas to personnel who need to be there to perform work tasks, including exposure monitoring
- Provide professionally-fitted respirators to all those who enter
- Advise workers not to eat, drink, or smoke inside restricted access areas
- Require employees to wear disposable or washable work clothes and also vacuum the dust off their clothing when they exit the area