Dust created when working with crystalline silica contains harmful particles. And, while respirable crystalline silica looks like dust, it’s much more harmful to workers’ lungs. In fact, silica dust is a carcinogen, and breathing it in causes the formation of scar tissue, reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.

Together, these facts outline the importance of adhering to safe work procedures related to respirable crystalline silica. Among these procedures, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a number of requirements employers must follow to reduce illnesses and injuries related to respirable crystalline silica.

While it’s important to reduce the occurrence of silica dust at job sites, there are specific cleaning precautions that must be taken when it is created, including:

  • Avoid dry brushing or dry sweeping whenever possible. The use of dry sweeping and dry brushing can cause respirable crystalline silica dust to go airborne, increasing inhalation risks for workers. In general, dry brushing and dry sweeping should only be used when wet sweeping and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-filtered vacuuming are not feasible.
  • Avoid cleaning surfaces or clothing with compressed air. Similar to dry sweeping and brushing, the use of compressed air can cause respirable crystalline silica to plume and create inhalation risks. However, workers may use compressed air alongside a ventilation system that captures the dust cloud or if no other cleaning method is feasible.

Wet sweeping and the use of HEPA-filtered vacuums are preferred, as they typically don’t increase silica risks for workers. HEPA vacuums are particularly useful, as they can be 99.97% efficient in removing mono-dispersed particles of 0.3 micrometers in diameter—significantly reducing inhalation risks. There may be instances where wet sweeping and HEPA-filtered vacuums could be ineffective, cause damage or create a hazard in the workplace. In such rare situations, those cleaning methods are not required.

Common Exposures: HVAC Businesses

Most homes and businesses are outfitted with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems—systems that require the care of specialized technicians for service. As an HVAC contractor, you are tasked with managing a variety of risks every time you perform maintenance or an installation on behalf of your clients.
Just one incident involving the use of electrical equipment, worker injury or property damage can lead to costs for your business. What’s more, exposures related to equipment breakdown, crime and environmental liability are prevalent for HVAC contractors, compounding risks for your business. The list below provides an overview of these risks and more—helping you identify potential blind spots in your risk management and insurance programs.

Automobile exposures

Because HVAC contractors usually own a fleet of vehicles and employees travel to and from job sites on a frequent basis, automobile exposures can be significant. Specifically, any time a contractor transports tools or visits a client, the risk for accidents increases. And, just one accident can be extremely costly for your business, as expenses related to vehicle repairs and bodily injuries can add up quickly. What’s more, if employees use their own vehicle for work, standard commercial auto policies are often not enough.


Property—including your tools, equipment, supplies, signage and similar items—plays a key role for your organization. And, in the event of a loss caused by fires, theft or vandalism, your business can suffer major financial consequences. Exposures can come from malfunctioning electrical equipment, flammable materials, weather and natural disasters. What’s more, a single incident can affect multiple aspects of your property, compounding costs and downtime for your business.

Equipment breakdown

HVAC contractors depend on a variety of different equipment to complete work on commercial or residential property, potentially creating significant equipment breakdown exposures as a result.
Contractors have very specific tools when it comes to installing and repairing HVAC systems, and any losses or breakdowns can lead to business interruptions, costly repairs or even lost contracts.

Completed operations coverage

Once a job has been completed, HVAC contractors can be held liable if their work product causes bodily injury or property damage. While claims of smaller problems can often be resolved with a repair, larger
issues may result in legal action. For instance, should heating and cooling systems be installed improperly, they could leak or catch fire, causing significant damage to a client’s home. Completed operations coverage can help protect a contractor should these kinds of claims arise.

Inland marine exposures

HVAC contractors regularly transport equipment, tools and supplies to and from worksites. As such, any property that’s unique or valuable, in transit, in your temporary care, stored at fixed (but movable) locations or used to transfer information represents inland marine exposures. Materials and tools can be damaged in transit from shifting loads or traffic collisions; at the worksite from collision, being dropped or poor weather conditions; or lost from theft, potentially creating costly losses.

Crime exposures

HVAC contractors face several crime exposures, particularly if valuable equipment or tools are used at the worksite, which may attract thieves or vandals. Thieves (including your employees) can rob an office or worksite at any time, targeting cash or valuable supplies. What’s more, with worksite locations changing on a regular basis, the level of risk a contractor faces is in constant flux.

Environmental liabilities

Because HVAC contractors store and handle refrigerants and other volatile chemicals as part of their business, environmental liabilities can be substantial. If disposed of improperly or following an accidental spill, these materials can create pollution, which can lead to insurance claims or even regulatory fines. Environmental incidents are particularly concerning because they can cause harm to the surrounding community, involve costly cleanup and often cause damage to a business’s reputation.

Workers’ compensation

Any time one of your employees is injured on the job, your organization could be subjected to a workers’ compensation claim. Common sources of on-the-job accidents for HVAC contractors include cuts, scrapes, burns from hot equipment, respiratory Illnesses from inhaling insulation and
musculoskeletal injuries caused by repetitive tasks, twisting, lifting, sprains and strains. Normal, everyday tasks related to working under sinks or carrying equipment can lead to accidents and, in turn, increased costs for your business.

For More Information

While the proper risk management practices can reduce certain exposures, no system is 100% effective in ensuring an incident-free workplace. As a result, it’s all the more crucial to work with a qualified insurance broker to not only assess you exposures, but secure the appropriate coverage as well. To learn more, contact Keevily Spero Whitelaw Inc. today.

OSHA Releases New Resources to Help Businesses Comply With Silica Rule

OSHA’s new silica rule for the general industry recently went into effect, which lowered the permissible exposure limit for the substance to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 µg/m3) and requires employers to take other steps to protect employees. Now, the agency has released new tools to help employers comply with the new standard.

Many of the new materials focus on silica risks that are specific to the construction industry, which has had to adhere to the new standard since last year. Here’s an overview of the new OSHA resources:

An informational video on the hazards associated with respirable silica

A series of shorter videos on control methods for specific tasks in the construction industry

A customizable presentation to help train construction employees on the dangers of silica exposure and how to protect themselves

An FAQ webpage on the new standard