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Silica: OSHA’s Final Rule to Protect Workers

silicaTotaling just under 1800 pages, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a final rule on silica exposure. This new regulation signals a huge change for several industry standards and increases the importance of developing safety programs and policies. While compliance for this new standard is not until 2017 and 2018, it is best to begin preparing for the upcoming changes.

Overview

Crystalline silica has been found to be a direct link to lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease. Every year, over 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers. The current OSHA standard for permissible exposure limits to silica have not been updated for more than 40 years, and the demand for current regulations has been growing. OSHA has estimated that this new standard will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis every year, resulting in a net benefit of $7.7 billion annually.

Since many employers already have the necessary measures to curb silica exposure, the new standard should not result in too much of a dramatic change. In fact, most activities involving silica exposure will simply require wetting down or vacuuming the silica dust before workers can breathe it in. Employers will also be required to limit access to any potential high exposure areas, provide training, PPE, and exposure control plans.

The ruling has a specific section regarding the construction industry, tailoring regulations to the unique work conditions the industry brings to the table. It is important to note that the standard does not apply where silica exposure will remain low under any foreseeable conditions. Mixing mortar or pouring concrete, for example, are conditions where exposure to silica is deemed low under foreseeable conditions. For more specifics on how to measure and control silica exposure, you can visit OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Rule: Construction page by clicking here.

Key Provisionssilica2

OSHA’s final silica rule is comprised of two standards, one for construction and one for general industry and maritime. Below are some of the key provisions outlined in the silica standard for construction.

  • Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift
  • Require 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.
  • Provide 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

Compliance Schedule

  • Final rule takes effect on June 23, 2016
  • Construction – June 23, 2017 to meet compliance
  • General Industry and Maritime – June 23, 2018 to meet compliance
  • Hydraulic Fracturing – June, 2018 to meet compliance

Requirements for laboratory evaluation of exposure samples begins on June 23, 2018.

It is important to check with your local and State safety and health department to establish exact timetables for implementation. OSHA approved State Plans have their own time compliance schedules for new standards, and dates can vary dramatically. Information regarding your local regulations should be accessible in the coming months.

More Information

The easiest way to get more information on silica regulation is to access OSHA’s website by clicking here. Through the website you can access a quick overview of the new regulations here,  or you can read the complete 1800 page ruling here.

The Integrated Group will continue to monitor the developments of the new silica standard. As the date for compliance nears, The Integrated Group will be providing training and guidance in developing silica control plans. For more information, feel free to contact us at 425-822-8500 or info@theintegratedgroup.com.

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