On March 25, 2016, OSHA issued a new Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule that will ultimately impact nearly one million workers in the construction, general industry, and maritime sectors. The Rule reduced the permissible exposure level (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica from 100 to 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) and established a new action level of 25 µg/m3. Other provisions were included to protect employees, such as requirements for exposure assessment, exposure control methods, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping.
The Rule included two standards: one for construction (29 CFR 1926.1153) and one for general industry and maritime (29 CFR 1910.1053), both of which became effective on June 23, 2016. OSHA’s new Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule will be implemented over a period of five years (starting on the abovementioned effective date), with enforcement coming most quickly to the construction industry. OSHA has been enforcing the Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction standard since September 23, 2017. However, for the first 30 days, OSHA offered compliance assistance in lieu of enforcement for those employers who were making good faith efforts to comply with the new construction standard. Effective October 23, 2017, OSHA commenced enforcement of all appropriate provisions of the Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction standard, except for requirements for sample analysis,1 which will commence on June 23, 2018. OSHA will begin enforcing most provisions of the standard for general industry and maritime on June 23, 2018. This article provides an overview of OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule and its applicability to the construction, general industry, and maritime business sectors.
Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many minerals. Quartz is the most common form of crystalline silica. Respirable size2 particles can be created as a result of activities such as cutting, drilling, and grinding of materials that contain crystalline silica. Crystalline silica has been classified as a human carcinogen. Silica exposure is a concern for nearly two million U.S. workers, including more than 100,000 workers in higher-risk jobs for this matter, such as abrasive blasting, foundry work, stonecutting, rock drilling, quarry work, and tunneling. Exposure to respirable crystalline silica can cause silicosis, lung cancer, and other respiratory and kidney diseases. There is no cure for silicosis, which in severe cases can lead to death in a few months.
OSHA has a newly established PEL (50 µg/m3), which is the maximum amount of crystalline silica to which workers may be exposed during an eight-hour work shift. OSHA also requires hazard communication training for workers exposed to crystalline silica, and a respirator protection program until engineering controls are implemented. OSHA estimates that more than 840,000 workers are exposed to silica levels that exceed the new PEL.
General industry sectors that will be affected by the new Rule include asphalt roofing materials, concrete products, cut stone, foundries, railroads, ready-mix concrete, shipyards, structure clay products, support activities for oil & gas operations, dental laboratories, jewelry, porcelain enameling, and pottery.
For construction, the most severe exposures generally occur during abrasive blasting with sand to remove paint and rust from bridges, tanks, concrete structures, and other surfaces. Other construction activities that may result in severe exposure include: jack hammering, rock/well drilling, concrete mixing, concrete drilling, brick and concrete block cutting and sawing, tuck pointing, tunneling, operating crushing machines, and milling.
Based on OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule, employers are required to:
- Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
- Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan.
- Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
- Offer medical exams including chest X-rays and lung function tests every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
- Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
- Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.
OSHA provides a table that contains dust control methods for 18 common task groups for the construction industry. Employers can either use the control methods laid out by OSHA, or they can measure workers’ exposure to silica and independently decide which dust controls work best to limit exposures to the PEL in their workplaces. Employers who do not use OSHA’s recommended control methods must:
- Measure the amount of silica that workers are exposed to if it may be at or above an action level of 25 μg/m3, averaged over an eight-hour day.
- Protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposures above the permissible exposure limit of 50 μg/m3, averaged over an eight-hour day.
- Use dust controls to protect workers from silica exposures above the PEL.
- Provide respirators to workers when dust controls cannot limit exposures to the PEL.
OSHA prepared the following flowcharts to provide assistance to employers that are working to comply with the new Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule. For more information regarding the enforcement guidance, please visit OSHA’s enforcement guidance for the Respirable Crystalline Silica standard for construction activities.
On December 19, 2017, OSHA released 18 fact sheets that provide guidance on the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction. These fact sheets provide employers with information on how to fully and properly implement controls, work practices, and, if needed, respiratory protection for each of the 18 task groups identified by OSHA.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) published its own proposed rule to address miners’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica. MSHA has mentioned that it had “looked at the OSHA Rule” to establish a new PEL for work activities subject to MSHA regulation. Please contact CEC’s Ali Lashgari (email@example.com; 412-249-1558) with any questions or comments. CEC will make updates on respirable silica-related rules via this blog.
Note 1: Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) should repeat Flowchart A for each employee engaged in a Table 1 task.
Note 2: To determine whether the engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection specified in Table 1 are fully and properly implemented, CSHOs should consult 29 CFR 1926.1153(c)(2), which contains additional requirements for tasks performed indoors or in an enclosed area, and for control measures involving wet methods or an enclosed cab or booth.
Note 3: Table 1 at 29 CFR 1926.1153(c)(1): Specified Exposure Control Methods When Working With Materials Containing Crystalline Silica
Note 4: Please click here to find details on each compliance guidance paragraph.
2 Particles with a diameter equal or less than 10 μm
Author: Ali Lashgari