OSHA’s New Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued their final rule to curb 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 and the other for General Industry and Maritime.

OSHA estimates that 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 fracking.

OSHA feels that the new 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.

The previous OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for crystalline silica was a sliding scale standard that was calculated after air samples were taken and was based on the amount of quartz contained in the individual sample and was expressed in milligrams per cubic meter of air.

The new standard significantly reduces the PEL to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The previous PEL was 250 micrograms per cubic meter, which represents a significant reduction in the allowable exposure to workers.

It should be noted that the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV) for crystalline silica is 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air and is more restrictive than the OSHA PEL.  This TLV has been in place since 2010.

The OSHA PEL’s are mandatory standards with which all employers are required to comply with under penalty of law.  The ACGIH TLV’s are advisory standards and represent current opinion of professional industrial hygienists.

Key Provisions

  • Reduces 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 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 give them information about their lung health.
  • Provides flexibility to help employers – especially small businesses – protect workers from silica exposure.

Compliance Schedule

Both standards contained in the final rule take effect on June 23, 2016.  Industries will 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 (Fracking) – June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date for all provisions except Engineering Controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021.

The full OSHA final rule and informational resources can be read here: https://www.osha.gov/silica/. Click here for our informative flyer.

If you have any questions pertaining to this new standard please contact your Accident Fund Loss Control Consultant.