OSHA’s highly controversial final rule on occupational exposure to crystalline silica has been issued. This is a major development as this rule represents the first reduction in silica exposure limits since 1971. It will have a significant impact on several industries, including 2 million construction workers and 300,000 in general industry and maritime sectors, including hydraulic fracturing.
New Standards: 29 CFR 1910.1053 (GI), 1915.1053 (Maritime) and 1926.1153 (Construction)
The rule significantly reduces the amount of silica dust that workers can be exposed to on the job. OSHA has established a permissible exposure limit (PEL), the maximum to which workers may be exposed during an 8-hour work shift. Employers are required under the rule to limit access to high exposure areas, provide training, provide respiratory protection when controls are not enough to limit exposure, provide written exposure control plans, and measure exposures in some cases. Employers are also required to offer medical examinations to highly exposed workers.
What is Crystalline Silica?
Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals. It is a known human respiratory toxin that causes silicosis, COPD, and lung cancer. When silica dust enters the lungs, it causes the formation of scar tissue and makes the lungs more susceptible to lung infections like tuberculosis and silicosis, which is incurable. Silicosis may take years to develop, but in the later stages, the worker may experience fatigue, extreme shortness of breath, chest pain, or respiratory failure.
Exposures to crystalline silica dust occur in common workplace operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of concrete, brick, block, rock, and stone products (such as construction tasks), and operations using sand products (such as in glass manufacturing, foundries, sandblasting, and hydraulic fracturing).
Employers can protect their workers from harm — and their companies from sick days and lawsuits — by installing exhaust ventilation systems and using water sprays and vacuums to reduce dust exposures. Employers must also provide protection with approved respirators to reduce worker exposure below the PEL level.
We recommend reviewing 29 CFR 1926.1153, the preamble to the regulations. When respirator use is mandatory, employers must implement a respirator program meeting the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.134. Employers and workers must read, understand and follow the procedures and recommendations in the respirator manufacturer’s user instructions. Full facepiece respirators must be fit-tested using quantitative methods for an assigned protection factor of 50. As part of a comprehensive risk management plan, employers should also consider protective coveralls for workers, as silica can travel home on clothing.
Compliance Dates to Know:
- Construction must comply by 6/23/17
- General industry/maritime must comply by 6/23/18
- Fracking must fully comply by 6/23/21