New standards put forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are underway and will soon help provide better protection for workers exposed to crystalline silica in construction, maritime and general industry. Crystalline Silica, a common mineral identified in the earth’s crust, can be found in a variety of materials including concrete, sand, stone and mortar. When broken down into very small particles through cutting, sawing, sanding, grinding, or drilling, crystalline silica can pose a very serious health threat to workers who inhale this dust. As it is known, respirable crystalline silica puts workers who inhale these microscopic particles at an increased risk for developing serious silica-related diseases including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and silicosis, an incurable lung disease that may lead to disability or death. It is estimated that approximately 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work. By reducing the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) to 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, OSHA hopes to save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year. Averaged over an 8 hour day, the new PEL is half the previous limit for maritime and general industry and five times lower than the previous limit for construction. Under these new rules, the air employees breathe must be regularly sampled and analyzed to ensure that exposure levels do not exceed these limits. However, employers in the construction industry who are fully and properly implementing the engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protections as specified by OSHA in Table 1 (a flexible compliance option for the construction industry), are not required to comply with the air sample measurement requirements as noted above.
In addition to the lower PEL levels and air sample provisions detailed in these new OSHA regulations, the new standards require both general industry and maritime employers to have a written exposure control plan in place as well as engineering and work practice control procedures.
Written Exposure Control Plans Must Include:
In support of the delivery and compliance of these new regulations, OSHA has outlined the following engineering control and work practice recommendations for maintaining the designated PEL levels in affected work environments:
The roll-out of these new standards will occur over a 4 year time period which began on September 23, 2017 for operations in the construction industry. Subsequently, the following compliance dates should be noted and every effort should be made to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to comply with these regulations by the dates listed below.
For all operations in general industry and maritime, other than hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry:
For hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry:
For additional resources and compliance assistance, please visit OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Rulemaking page. On-site consultation is available at no charge to small and mid-sized businesses interested in getting a jump-start on these standards.