As mentioned earlier in this issue by my colleague Jon Namba, OSHA regulations designed to reduce workers’ exposure to airborne silica dust are in effect, but many contractors seem to have shrugged their shoulders and ignored the rules. For this month’s manufacturer roundtable, we spoke with installation products and tool manufacturers about the importance of being in compliance, some best practices to follow and what products can contribute to meeting the OSHA regulations.

This month’s panelists are: Paul Guth, president of iQ Power Tools; Mitch Burdick, product manager, Bosch Power Tools; Dave Bigham, director of global training initiatives for National Flooring Equipment; Jim Whitfield, MAPEI technical services director; Clint Schramm, marketing – concrete remediation for Laticrete; Wayne Williams, Stauf’s director of training; and Matthew Piper, technical sales manager for James Hardie.


What should contractors and installers look for when choosing products to help meet OSHA regulations on airborne silica dust?

Guth: “Contractors should make sure all products being considered are designed and tested to reduce airborne silica dust and silica mist. Their research should include seeing if products have whitepaper testing results available and/or third party testing, i.e. TNO (Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research) certifications.”

Burdick: “Users need to read and fully understand the OSHA Regulation on silica dust. This includes developing a comprehensive work plan to ensure that employees’ exposure to silica dust is being reduced to or below the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL).

“In terms of choosing products, users need to consider the power tools, dust collection attachments, related accessories, the vacuum system and in many cases the types of respiration that are needed for their applications. As an example, some items concrete flooring companies need to consider are the size of grinder needed for surface prep (this can also determine the size of the vacuum), surface grinding around obstructions, wall surfacing or main floor surfacing, the need for flush grinding against walls, etc. All of these factors need to be considered when choosing the best products to help meet the OSHA Regulation on silica dust. The Bosch website offers a good starting point for the user at boschtools.com/us/en/more/news-and-extras/knowledge-center/dust-control/proguard-home.”

Bigham: “When performing surface preparation, it’s critical to have the right dust collector for the job. Equipment can usually be paired with a specific dust collector, but a good guideline is that a smaller surface preparation machine requires a small dust collector and vice versa. It can be beneficial to opt for a larger dust collector than specified, as this prepares you for all scenarios—it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“When there is a risk of silica dust inhalation, look for a dust collector with an individually tested High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter and a high minimum efficiency. National Flooring Equipment’s range of dust collectors boasts a 99.995% minimum efficiency rating at 0.14 microns.

“The vacuum’s bagging system is also an extremely important component. If the silica dust becomes airborne when the user changes the vacuum bag, the work that the filters have done previously is wasted. Most top-of-the-range dust collectors will come equipped with a continuous bag, which can be cut from the machine and disposed of without being unsealed.”

Whitfield: “Based on our testing, our tile installation products should not have an issue if best practices are followed. The most significant potential release of respirable silica is from powdered products when they are first being opened, poured and mixed with liquid—or during the demolition of these products. Under the new rules, contractors must test to determine if employee work areas exceed the action level and permissible exposure level. Keep in mind that other installation activities (such as cutting tile or stone, grinding concrete, sweeping or working with sand and gravel) can also introduce airborne silica into a workplace. All sources must be considered under OSHA requirements.”

Schramm: “More manufacturing companies are seeking independent analysis on products to ensure jobsite safety. The installation methods, and jobsite cleanup of product packaging, that often harbor silica dust residue are on their radar.

“Installers and contractors should take good measure to confirm they are buying and using products that meet these standards. Installers and contractors can check if their products contain silica by reviewing the label. If silica is listed, they should refer to the product’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for more information.

“By producing more silica sand-free products and monitoring compliance in existing products that contain low amounts of sand, as well as proactively taking health and safety concerns seriously, we will start to see the entire industry work to create a healthier, more sustainable future.” 

Williams: “Choose a product that does not contain silica, or products that have low-dust technology.”

Piper: “If you are working with products that contain silica, you should be aware that the OSHA PEL (permissible exposure limit) for respirable silica dust has been reduced 80% to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The good news is, the same readily available tools you’ve likely been using to cut HardieBacker Cement Board safely—a scoring knife or electric or pneumatic shears—still allow you to cut our products with minimal airborne dust and help you comply with the new PEL.

“The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducts occupational safety research for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). NIOSH evaluated the use of mechanical shears and the score and snap method of cutting cement boards and found that these cutting methods are ‘almost dust-free.’ Using shears or the score and snap method are the preferred practices for cutting cement board, and they are suitable for indoor use without respiratory protection. (You can read the report at cdc.gov/niosh/surveyreports/pdfs/358-21a.pdf.)”


What are some best practices contractors and installers can adopt to help minimize exposure?

Guth: “If anyone sees a dust cloud, implementing new work practices to eliminate the silica dust on the jobsite should be made mandatory. They should be well-versed on the following:

  • Know the Hazard—Understand all risks associated with [airborne] silica exposure.
  • Know the Standards—Understand the OSHA PEL (Permissible Exposure Limits) and what it means to owners, their business and their workers.
  • “Know Your Exposure—Understand how to use air monitoring to measure silica exposure levels and understand the results.
  • Know Your Options—Understand the options, including tools, work practices and educational resources for controlling silica exposure on jobsites. Then, take action.”

Burdick: “No two jobs or jobsites are the same. The best thing companies can do is to read and fully understand the OSHA regulation and to develop a comprehensive work plan based on the products being used to ensure that their employee’s exposure to silica dust is being reduced to the PEL. In addition, companies need to ensure that other subcontractors also are following the requirements for the OSHA regulation on silica dust, including any effects from the jobsite surroundings.

“The user should be aware of their environment. Not just the tools and accessories for the job, but also jobsite surroundings. Consider the job requirements, but also what others are doing around you. People sweeping up dust with a broom could affect user exposure, as well as other workers who are not in compliance with dust management guidelines. Always think of the job situationally and be aware of your surroundings.”

Bigham: “Investing in a dust collector that attaches onto surface preparation equipment is the best way to keep silica dust enclosed and stop it from becoming airborne. Contractors should make sure that the dust collection equipment is up and running before any mechanical preparation is started to minimize airborne silica dust.

“There are two main types of dust collectors to choose from: a manual cleaning or a pulsing system, distinguished by the way the filter is cleaned. It is vital that filters are cleaned, or you are at risk of it becoming clogged and performing less efficiently. In a manual system, the contractor must manually clean the filter. A pulsing system has on-board air compressors that build up pressure and pulse the dust off.

“Dust collection can also be done in two ways: wet or dry. Usually the application at hand will specify whether wet or dry collection is most appropriate. For example, in food processing or the production of electronic components, the risk dust poses is huge. In these scenarios, surfaces should be prepared using water to ensure no dust is escaping into the environment, it is instead caught in slurry. This is because dust can cause drastic problems. For example, if dust were to get behind a control panel in an automotive manufacturing facility, vehicles would have to be taken apart after assembly if they became contaminated.

“Dry dust collection, on the other hand, acts almost like an oversized vacuum cleaner. Where possible, contractors opt for this technology as it requires less labor time, avoids the risk of water meeting electricity and removes the need to clean up slurry.

“As well as legislative requirements on equipment, disposal is a regulated process. The laws for disposal are varied by country and in the U.S. by state, so contractors must take care to follow the local laws and dispose of dust legally. There can be huge fines if a contractor fails to do so.

“National Flooring Equipment pairs each machine with the corresponding dust collector and can also offer advice to those who are unsure on the best approach for the application.”

Whitfield: “When mixing powdered products add the powder to the water, pouring under control from waist height. Consider an appropriate HEPA dust extraction system. Start mixing slowly and only increase the speed when all of the powder has been covered with water.

“Probably the most important factor for an installer is to understand the OSHA requirements. The best resource is the OSHA Fact Sheet: “OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Rule: Construction” which can be downloaded at osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3681.pdf. I think a good tool for business owners is the “OSHA3902 Small Entity Compliance Guide” also available on the OSHA website. Decide how your company will comply, have a written exposure plan, and assign a silica-competent person.

“MAPEI has done testing on jobsites to determine the exposure levels and we have had them monitored by an industrial hygienist. This helped us create our Technical Bulletin titled “MAPEI’s Products and OSHA’s Silica Standard,” which is available on our website and is intended to be a tool to be used in a contractor’s written exposure plan, as objective data.”

Schramm: “Aside from choosing products that have zero or minimal respirable silica sand in their formulas, there are many good practices installers and contractors can adopt to avoid exposure. Since various trades often work on the jobsite at one time, it’s important to be aware of one’s surroundings and take proper precautions to wear personal protective equipment. Even if the products they are using are not a risk factor, exposure can happen on-site if the silica sand is present elsewhere. Installers and contractors should wear disposable or washable work clothes and shower if facilities are available before leaving the worksite to ensure silica sand is not brought home.”

Williams: “Use dust covers on mixing containers if using low-dust products, and dust covers on buffers and a HEPA vacuum while sanding. With our ULC-500 Level-Seal product, neither of these steps are required.”

Piper: “James Hardie has always promoted safe work practices and is committed to educating and helping contractors create optimal work environments. James Hardie has collaborated with industry stakeholders, safety professionals, and OSHA to help promote safe behavior across our customer base. James Hardie has developed a plethora of resources to provide more specific information about best practices for minimizing silica dust on jobsites as well as resources for compliance with the OSHA rule.”


What are some of the products you offer that can help meet the new regulations?

Guth: “iQ Power Tools manufactures a comprehensive range of premium power tools with integrated dust collection systems for the tile, concrete, masonry and hardscape sectors. Our innovative tools are considered game-changers in the construction industry. One is the iQTS244, a 10 in. dustless dry-cut tile saw with the precision and versatility of a wet saw. With the world’s first fully integrated dust control technology, this innovative tool allows for tile to be cut inside or outside with no water and no dust discharge.

“100% compliant with the new OSHA standard on respirable silica dust, the iQTS244 was initially produced for professional contractors to eliminate problems caused by cutting with water. It utilizes a three-stage filtration system and cyclone technology, which captures up to 99.5% of the dust. The saw automatically starts the built-in vacuum system, featuring a 92 CFM high output. The built-in vacuum on the iQTS244 also air-cools the blade while removing debris, so the blade isn’t regrinding the same material, reducing friction and heat.”

Burdick: “Bosch offers one of the most comprehensive ranges of dust collection solutions for concrete construction applications ranging from drilling into concrete and chiseling/concrete demolition to concrete surface grinding and concrete cutting/masonry. Bosch also provides a range of dust extractors (e.g. vacuums) featuring several CFM ratings, auto-filter cleaning technology, and HEPA filter and filter bag solutions so users can choose the best system that meets their needs. For more details, go to boschtools.com to check out available products and to review the dust collection brochure.

“One particular and common application is drilling into concrete. The new Bosch 18V Bulldog rotary hammer (GBH18V-26D) with an 18V on-board dust collector (GDE18V-26D) is a complete cordless system that moves the user toward OSHA compliance. Bosch looks to implement solutions across its portfolio, including backward compatibility. To that end, the cordless Bulldog on-board dust collector also can be used with previous-generation corded Bosch Bulldog rotary hammers.”

Bigham: “National Flooring Equipment offers a range of dust collectors to help contractors reduce dust exposure and industrial dust collectors of different sizes so that all of its surface preparation connects to a dust collector. All of these are tested by contractors and meet or exceed HEPA standards to help surface preparation workers meet regulations.

“Contractors can also reduce airborne silica dust by investing in the ION4K. This compact machine electronically charges the air in the room, knocking dust and other contaminants rapidly to the floor. This helps keep workers and any nearby members of the public safe from illnesses caused by inhaling silica dust.”

Whitfield: “Our entire product line can be used, if best practices for our product installation and OSHA’s Table 1 recommendations are followed for the rest of the workplace practices. Some of our mortar and surface preparation products are formulated with significant dust reduction characteristics. For example, many of our lightweight products contain recycled glass aggregate; the addition of this aggregate eliminates or substantially reduces the amount of crystalline silica.

“Unsanded grouts have no silica added during manufacturing. Further, there are other products that are received premixed—like mastic, ready-to-use grouts, and caulking and sealants—that do not release silica during application. I believe we will continue to innovate and formulate with reduced silica in mind, but I cannot suggest enough to use best practices when mixing dry powder materials, consider products with reduced silica (they typically also have value for “green” or LEED projects), review the MAPEI tools like our Technical Bulletin mentioned earlier, and understand the OSHA regulation for the construction industry 29CFR 1926.1153.”

Schramm: “One such product is our SUPERCAP Self-Leveling Underlayment Ready-Mix Delivery Service. When the only thing that goes in the building is a hose, there is no mixing and no respirable silica dust introduced in the building. The SUPERCAP Ready-Mix Delivery Service keeps workers safe, exceeding OSHA silica dust regulations.

“Our 257 Titanium is a lightweight, silica sand-free, thin-set mortar designed to function as the optimal choice for installing Gauged Porcelain Tile (GPT), Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels/Slabs (GPTP), porcelain tile and stone in commercial, residential and industrial applications. 257 Titanium exceeds ANSI A118.15, the industry’s highest performance standard for a cementitious based adhesive mortar and utilizes Laticrete Hydromatic Cure Chemistry, which accelerates the hydration process to rapidly consume water in the system, allowing the material to cure in a predictable manner. Because it is sand-free, 257 Titanium both reduces exposure to respirable silica and contributes to the easy-to-spread creamy consistency and the ease of troweling.”

Williams: “Our ULC-500 Level-Seal has no silica and zero VOCs, and combats all the issues with dust control both in the mixing and sanding process.”

Piper: “Silica is a commonly used mineral because of its benefits—it is naturally fire resistant and essential to James Hardie’s durability and stability to moisture. James Hardie has been preparing for the new OSHA silica dust rule for years and is ready to assist installers and contractors in achieving compliance efficiently and affordably. We have always promoted safe jobsite practices and will continue to do so. Visit JamesHardiePros.com/safety for more information.”