The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established a new standard for employers that have employee working with Silica Dust.

With this new standard OSHA is hoping to decrease the number of lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as kidney disease in United States workers by limiting the amount of exposure that employees have in relation to respirable crystalline Sicilia.

silica dustThis new rule is comprised of two standards, one standard is for the General Industry and Maritime, and the other standard is for the construction field.

It is estimated that this new standard could save 600 or more lives and help prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year.  It may take some time for these effects to be fully felt but that is the hope.

It is estimated that around 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust in the workplace.  This number would construction workers that either drill, cut, crush or grind materials that contain silica.  As far as the general industry is concerned it is estimated that 300,000 workers are exposed.  This would employees who work in the following professions.

  • Brick Manufacturing
  • Foundress
  • Hydraulic Fracturing

Up to now employers have been using equipment that controls dust with either water or a vacuum system.

Below is the New Silica Requirements:

Key Provisions

  • Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
  • Requires employers to develop a written exposure control plan this plan will include various provisions including engineering controls that would include water or ventilation for the purpose of limiting exposure.
  • The plan should also limit worker access to high exposure areas.
  • Another aspect of this plan would be for employers to provide employees with respirators and provide annual medical evaluations for the purpose of keeping the employees safe for over exposure.
  • The new standards will provide flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.

Compliance Schedule

While these new standards will take effect on June 23, 2016 there will be some time before complete implementation will take effect.

For those in the Construction field the date is June 23, 2017

For those in the General Industry and Maritime – the date is June 23, 2018. And for those in

Hydraulic Fracturing – the date is also June 23, 2018.  June 23, 2018 is the date that all industries must comply by with the exception of the Engineering Controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021.

Background

The dangers of respirable crystalline silica dust has been known about since the 1930’s.  In 1971 OSHA set standards to limit employee exposure, this was done in OSHA’S first year of existence.

Since that time the standards have become outdated, and have been determined to no longer be affective in protecting workers from unsafe exposure levels.

In addition to that more industries are now involved.  Industries such as stone or artificial stone countertop fabrication as well as hydraulic fracturing.

After a thorough review of the scientific evidence, along with industry consensus standards, and extensive stakeholder input the basis for the final rule was established.

 

During the exploration period OSHA held 14 days of public meetings, and accepted over 2,000 comments resulting in 34,000 pages of research material.

OSHA, has done it’s best to make sure that there is the needed employer flexibility needed for compliance.

The fact that OSHA, has provided the employer with that flexibility to comply with the new silica  Dust Rule is both good and bad for the employer.  On the one hand it is good that the flexibility is there, on the other for employers who choose to bury their heads in the sand the fines will be costly.

This plan should be placed in your safety program, and the employer should also be doing training.  Educating employees on the dangers and hazards of their job is something that OSHA takes very seriously.

This is one of those topics that you want to cover at least once a year.  A good safety program that is followed is worth its wait in gold when you are dealing either with Cal-OSHA, or Federal OSHA.

 

Reference Material

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/03/25/2016-04800/occupational-exposure-to-respirable-crystalline-silica