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Feds Urge New Controls in Paving Work

Thursday, March 19, 2015

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After a decade of research, U.S. officials are recommending new measures to protect thousands of asphalt workers from respirable crystalline silica.

More than 360,000 road and bridge construction workers in the U.S. are at risk of exposure to respirable crystalline silica, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Designing asphalt milling equipment with ventilation controls and added water sprays could lessen dust exposure, says NIOSH, which developed the recommendations with numerous labor, industry and government groups. 

The 79-page Best Practice Engineering Control Guidelines to Control Worker Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica during Asphalt Pavement Milling was developed through the Silica/Asphalt Milling Machine Partnership. The partnership provides best practices to help reduce respirable silica exposures during asphalt pavement milling in highway construction.

NIOSH silica exposure
©iStock.com / BanksPhotos

NIOSH and partners collected 42 worker breathing zone air samples at 11 highway construction sites. Machines that adopted dust-control approaches reduced silica exposures from asphalt milling.

"Inhalation of respirable crystalline silica can cause silicosis, a debilitating and potentially fatal lung disease, and other possible adverse health outcomes," Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH, said in a press release.

"This collaborative effort by labor, industry and government reflects the current knowledge of best practices and a partnership that has succeeded in developing recommended engineering controls for these worksites."

Dust Control

A variety of machinery is used to remove and recycle asphalt pavement, including cold-milling machines with toothed, rotating cutters that grind and remove the pavement.

These machines often generate dust containing respirable crystalline silica, which can then be blown into air the workers are breathing, according to NIOSH.

NIOSH

The addition of water sprays on machines with toothed, rotating cutters could be used to prevent or suppress dust if ventilation dust controls are not available.

NIOSH and its partners collected 42 worker personal breathing zone air samples at 11 highway construction sites. Their finding: Machines that adopted the dust control approach reduced worker exposure to silica from asphalt milling operations.

Machine Recommendations

The team made several recommendations to reduce exposures, including:

  • Installing ventilation controls on all new asphalt milling machines;
     
  • Maximizing cover around the machines' cutter drum and conveyor belts;
     
  • Designing an outlet that blows dust away from the worker at high speed, if the machine's ventilation control does not include a dust collector; and
     
  • Using water sprays to prevent or suppress dust if ventilation dust controls are not available.

Following the release of the document, the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) developed a shorter field guide to provide a quick reference to best practices and control recommendations, as well as a daily dust control checklist and tips for the jobsite.

Far-Reaching Partnerships

NIOSH is the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths.

NIOSH

Following the release of the document, the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) developed a shorter field guide to provide a quick reference to best practices and control recommendations, as well as a daily dust control checklist and other tips to use on the jobsite.

The Silica/Asphalt Milling Machine Partnership is coordinated by the National Asphalt Pavement Association and includes all U.S. and foreign equipment manufacturers that sell pavement-milling machines to the U.S. market.

The partnership also includes paving contractors, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Laborers International Union of North America, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Federal Highway Administration.

   

Tagged categories: Asphalt; Bridges; Construction; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NIOSH; North America; OSHA; Research; Roads/Highways; Silica; Workers

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