OSHA Fines Big Dig Contractor for Silica Overexposure

OSHA cited a contractor on\r\nBoston's Central Artery/Tunnel Project following a health inspection that found workers were overexposed to silica.

OSHA cited Slattery/Interbeton/J.F. White/Perinin, a contractor on Boston''s Central Artery/Tunnel Project, for safety and health violations at an underground construction site.

The alleged violations were discovered by OSHA during safety and health inspections of a tunnel jacking project located beneath railroad tracks into Boston''s South Station railway terminal.

OSHA initiated its inspections on Dec. 5, as part of its ongoing monitoring of workplace safety and health on the Big Dig, said Brenda Gordon, OSHA area director for Boston and Southeastern Massachusetts.

"The health inspection found instances in which employees were overexposed to airborne concentrations of crystalline silica generated during construction and the employer failed to take necessary steps to minimize this hazard, even though its own sampling for silica showed excess silica levels," said Gordon. "The safety inspection identified several fall hazards, employees working without fall protection, electrical hazards, an impalement hazard and inadequate protection against flying debris for equipment operators working at the tunnel''s face."

Gordon explained that crystalline silica, a basic component of sand and gravel, is often generated during tunneling and other construction activities.

Continued exposure to crystalline silica can lead to silicosis, a lung disease which causes scar tissue formation in the lungs that reduces their ability to extract oxygen from the air.

Crystalline silica is also a known human carcinogen. OSHA standards require employers to develop and implement engineering controls to reduce exposure levels to toxic substances and, where respirators are used, to implement an effective and continuous respirator program.

"Though many of the cited hazards were addressed during the course of the inspection, it should not have taken an OSHA inspection to prompt this employer to ensure that these basic, well-known and necessary worker safeguards were in place and in use at this jobsite."

The contractor faces $69,000 in penalties for the alleged health and safety violations.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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