OSHA’s Final Rule For Respirable Crystalline Silica

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a Final Rule to reduce lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease in America’s workers – by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The rule is comprised of two standards: one for Construction, the  other for General Industry and Maritime.

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in materials that we see every day in roads, buildings, and sidewalks. It is a common component of sand, stone, rock, concrete, brick, block and mortar.

Exposure to crystalline silica is associated with a lung disease called silicosis. Over time, exposure to silica particles may cause scarring and inflammation of the linings of the inner portions of the lungs, reducing the ability to breathe. A person with acute silicosis will experience coughing, weight loss, fatigue, and chest pain and is also at a higher risk of other lung diseases such as tuberculosis, lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. Chronic silicosis may not be diagnosed until many years after exposure – as the silica dust causes swelling in the lungs and chest lymph nodes, making breathing difficult.

About 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces – including two million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone; and 300,000 workers in general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, glass manufacturing, and hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking). Responsible employers have been protecting workers from harmful exposure to respirable crystalline silica for years, using widely-available equipment that controls dust with a fine water spray or a vacuum system.

OSHA estimates that the rule will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year, once its effects are fully realized. The Final Rule is projected to provide net benefits of about $7.7 billion annually.

Key Provisions

The key provisions of the rule include:

  1. Reducing the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift.
  2. Requiring employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; providing respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limiting worker access to high exposure areas; developing a written exposure control plan; and training workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
  3. Providing medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and giving them information about their lung health.
  4. Providing flexibility to help employers, especially small businesses, protect workers from silica exposure.

Compliance Schedule

Both standards contained in the Final Rule took effect on June 23, 2016. Industries have one to five years to comply with most requirements, based on the following schedule:

  • Construction – June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date
  • General Industry and Maritime – June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date
  • Hydraulic Fracturing – June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date for all provisions except Engineering Controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021

Affected Industries

Affected industries include:

♦ Construction and demolition ♦ Glass manufacturing

♦ Pottery products ♦ Structural clay products  ♦ Concrete products

♦ Foundries ♦Dental laboratories ♦   Paintings and coatings

♦ Jewelry production ♦ Refractory products ♦Ready-mix concrete

♦ Cut stone and stone products ♦ Railroad transportation

♦ Abrasive blasting in maritime, construction, and general industry

♦ Oil and gas operations ♦ Refractory furnace installation and repair

HETI…Help with Silica Exposure Compliance

HETI can assist facilities and construction sites in identifying silica hazards…and complying with OSHA’s Final Rule. We have the experience and technical expertise to assist with hazard recognition, exposure monitoring, and control development to reduce the risk of silica exposure to employees and help ensure regulatory compliance.