OSHA Issues Final Rule for Occupational Exposure to Silica

On March 25, 2016 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its final rule on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The rule will help protect the estimated 2.3 million U.S. workers that are exposed to silica in their workplaces. The rule is comprised of two standards, one for Construction, and one for General Industry and Maritime. OSHA estimates that the rule will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year. Key provisions of the new rule include the following:

  • Reduces the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), averaged over an 8-hour shift. The rule also establishes an Action Level of 25 µg/m3, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
  • Requires exposure assessment of each employee who is or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica at or above the Action Level.
  • 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, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
  • Provides for medical exams to exposed workers, and gives them information about their lung health.

Both standards 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 – June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date.
  • 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 OSHA compliance assistance, please contact Michael Howe, CIH, by email at howe@colden.com or call (315) 445-0847.