OSHA’s Final Rule for Silica

Guest post from Peter Sfraga, Zack Academy

Update: 10/19/2017 View OSHA’s Memorandum

OSHA announced a final rule on worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica, which can cause lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease. OSHA estimates the final rule will save 600 lives and prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis per year, with a net benefit of $7.7 billion.

According to OSHA, “About 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 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, 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 water or a vacuum system.”

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: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.
Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.
Via the Communication of Hazards standard, employers must provide training on respirable crystalline silica hazards and the methods to be used to limit their exposures to those hazards.

Compliance Schedule

Both standards contained in the final rule take effect on June 23, 2016., after which industries have one to five years to comply with most requirements, based on the following schedule:

Construction – September 23, 2017. (REVISED – enforcement was delayed by OSHA from its original deadline of June 23, 2017)

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.

For further information please see OSHA’s final rule.