WASHINGTON - The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) reports that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued two National Emphasis Programs (NEP) that could affect the sheet metal/HVAC industry. A NEP typically means increased and “focused” compliance inspections and enforcement actions related to the topic of concern.

Combustible Dusts:OSHA issued a safety and health instruction that details OSHA policies and procedures for inspecting workplaces that handle combustible dusts and that may have the potential for a dust explosion. Combustible dusts are often either organic or metal dusts that are finely ground into very small particles, fibers, chips, and/or flakes. These dusts can come from metal, wood, plastic, and organic materials such as grain, flour, sugar, paper, soap, and dried blood. Dusts can also come from textile materials. Some of the industries in which combustible dusts are particularly prevalent include agriculture, chemical, textile, forest, and the furniture industry.

The main “exposure” for sheet metal and HVAC contractors would be when working in industrial and manufacturing facilities and plants that have the potential to accumulate these types of dusts. HVAC contractors who design, install, and/or maintain dust collection systems should certainly be aware of this issue. Special precautions should be taken when welding, cutting, or brazing (or other “hot work”) in these areas.

Crystalline Silica:The second national emphasis program was established to identify and reduce or eliminate the health hazards associated with occupational exposure to crystalline silica. The sheet metal industry was one of many industries named in the program with the “potential for overexposure to crystalline silica.”

The main area of concern for the sheet metal industry was identified as abrasive blasting (or sandblasting). However, any work that results in significant disturbance of concrete or masonry should be considered to be under the jurisdiction of this national emphasis program and evaluated for possible silica dust exposures.

For more information, visit www.osha.gov.

Publication date:04/21/2008