OSHA’s Updated Silica Regulation – What you Need to Know

Silica Regulation

In March of 2016, OSHA announced an updated rule that would amend outdated silica exposure regulations that were put in place in 1971. On September 23, 2017, the enforcement of OSHA’s updated respirable crystalline silica standard will go into effect for the construction industry in an attempt to reduce the occurrence of illnesses such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, and silicosis, among many others.

Crystalline silica is classified as a “known human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization – International Agency on Cancer Research. First identified as hazardous in the 1930s due to a spike in deaths related to silica exposure, it took nearly 40 years to enforce any regulations on exposure to the substance. Each year, 2.3 million people are exposed to respirable crystalline silica. Of this, 2 million work in the construction industry.

The updated silica regulation is made up of two standards: one covering the construction industry, and one covering General Industry and Maritime. OSHA projects that the new regulation will result in 600 lives saved each year, as well as prevention of over 900 new cases of silicosis annually once it is fully implemented. On this note, the U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez commented, “This rule will save lives. It will enable workers to earn a living without sacrificing their health. It builds upon decades of research and a lengthy stakeholder engagement process – including the consideration of thousands of public comments – to finally give workers the kind of protection they deserve…”

Key provisions outlined in the updated are as follows:

  • The Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of respirable crystalline silica has been reduced to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air per 8-hour shift.
  • Requirements for employers:
    • Implement engineering controls specifically designed to limit exposure to comply with the PEL, such as local exhaust ventilation or water sprays.
    • If engineering controls cannot limit exposure, respirators must be provided.
    • Designate high exposure areas and limit access to these areas.
    • Create a written exposure control plan.
    • Subject highly exposed workers to medical examinations.
    • Educate workers on the risks of respirable crystalline silica and how to limit exposure.
  • Workers with high exposure must be provided with medical examinations to monitor their exposure.
  • Employers will be given flexibility to limit silica exposure for their employees.

A more in-depth overview of the provisions can be found in The Center for Construction Research and Training’s “Understanding & Implementing the New Construction Silica Standard” webinar.

The regulation will go into effect on June 23, 2018 for General Industry and Maritime. Make sure your organization is in compliance by reading the full text of the regulation applying to the construction industry. Check out Silica Safe’s Create-A-Plan tool to help you control silica dust in your workplace.