OSHA Finalized a Rule to Address the Dangers of Silica Dust

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) finalized a rule that will further limit the amount of silica that workers can be exposed to.  Over 2 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in the workplace.  By lowering the permissible exposure limit, OSHA estimates that the final rule will help save over 600 lives throughout a number of industries.

Crystalline Silica can be found in soil, sand, granite, concrete and other materials. Once these materials are disturbed, small sized particles of silica are released into the air, causing potential hazards.  Inhaling crystalline silica can lead to silicosis, lung cancer, tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  Silica dust is commonly found in industries associated with construction, oil and gas operations, manufacturing stone, glass or concrete, abrasive blasting, railroad transportation, foundries, and refractory products.

The final rule is separated into two standards to address silica exposure in construction and silica exposure in general industry and maritime.

Key Changes:

  • The new permissible exposure limit (PEL) is .05 mg/m3, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
  • If the amount of silica that workers are exposed to is at or above an action level of .025 mg/m3, averaged over an 8-hour shift, the employer must measure and monitor the level respirable silica.
  • Develop and implement a written exposure control plan addressing procedures to protect workers, engineering controls, respiratory protection used, and housekeeping measures used to limit exposure.
  • Identify Regulated Areas. Areas with concentrations greater than 0.05 mg/m3 require visible demarcation.  Signs should have specified wording/warning.
  • Assign a competent person with the task to ensure the exposure control plan is being followed.
  • The employer must also provide medical exams every three years for workers who wear a respirator for 30 days or more per year, provide training for workers, and maintain medical records of workers who are exposed to silica.

Compliance Dates:

  • The final rule will take effect on June 23, 2016.
  • Construction industries must be in compliance by June 23, 2017.
  • General industry and maritime industries must be in compliance by June 23, 2018.
  • Hydraulic fracturing related industries must be in compliance by June 23, 2018, with the exception of Engineering Controls which has a compliance date of June 23, 2021.