On March 24, 2016, around three years after the initial proposal, OSHA finalized two new silica standards: one for general industry and maritime (1910.1053), and the other for construction (1926.1153).
According to OSHA, strong evidence shows that the previous permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3) is associated with increased risk of developing lung cancer and kidney disease. Reducing the PEL by 50% to 50 μg/m3 is estimated to save the lives of more than 600 workers and prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis each year.
In addition to reducing the PEL, OSHA also reduced the Action Level to 25 μg/m3, that would prompt certain control measures if exceeded. Crystalline silica is found in many common products, including but not limited to, asphalt, brick, cement, drywall, some paints, plaster, rock, sand, oil, stone and tile. Exposures to crystalline silica dust occur in common workplace operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of these materials where the materials may go airborne.
Affected industries include:
- Glass manufacturing
- Pottery products
- Structural clay products
- Concrete products
- Dental laboratories
- Paintings and coatings
- Jewelry production
- Refractory products
- Ready-mix concrete
- Cut stone and stone products
- Abrasive blasting in maritime, construction, and general industry
- Refractory furnace installation and repair
- Railroad transportation
- Oil and gas operations
The new rule applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica, except where employee exposures will remain below the action level of 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) under any foreseeable conditions. Exclusions include agricultural operations and exposures in the processing of sorptive clays.
By June 23, 2017 (Construction) and June 23, 2018 (General Industry and Maritime and some provisions of Hydraulic Fracking), employers will have to:
- Implement controls and work practices that reduce workers’ exposure to silica dust
- Limit access to high exposure areas
- Provide training with regards to hazard communication and work practices to reduce exposure
- Provide respiratory protection when controls are not sufficient to limit exposure and comply with existing OSHA requirements of the respiratory protection standard
- Provide written exposure control plans
- Measure exposures in some cases
- Offer medical examinations to highly exposed workers
By Michelle McIntyre, MPH, CIH, CSP, Principal Consultant, BSI EHS Services and Solutions
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