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OSHA announced its final Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule in March, 2016. ABC joined with other construction industry groups and filed suit against OSHA in May; this matter is still pending. While the final outcome is not known, we do want to share information with our members regarding the rule as it currently stands.

What You Need to Know About OSHA’s New Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule

Article provided by Steve Delp, Compliance Assistance Specialist, OSHA

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced a new rule that will better protect workers from the harmful effects of breathing respirable crystalline silica dust.  Approximately 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica dust at work, including 2 million in the construction industry.  Breathing the dust can cause silicosis, an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease, as well as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.

The new provisions begin to take effect in June 2017 for the construction industry and June 2018 for general industry and maritime.  Here’s what you need to know:

The rule significantly reduces the amount of silica dust that workers can be exposed to on the job. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica is now 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.

 Employers will have to implement dust controls and work practices to limit workers’ exposure to the new PEL.  This usually means using water to keep dust from getting into the air or a ventilation system to capture dust where it is created.  Employers will also be required to limit access to high exposure areas, provide training, provide respiratory protection when dust controls are not enough to limit exposure, develop written exposure control plans, and measure exposures in some cases.

 The rule also requires employers to offer medical examinations to highly exposed workers.  Workers who find out they have a related illness can use that information to make employment or lifestyle decisions to protect their health. This rule is based on extensive review of peer-reviewed scientific evidence, current industry consensus standards, an extensive public outreach effort, and nearly a year of public comment, including several weeks of public hearings.


The Need for Change
OSHA adopted exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica shortly after the agency was established in 1971.  However, these exposure limits were based on research from the 1960s and earlier.  More recent scientific evidence shows that the old exposure limits do not adequately protect worker health.   Workers are still dying and suffering from serious illnesses as a result of silica dust exposure.  OSHA estimates that the new rule will save
over 600 lives annually and will prevent over 900 cases of silicosis each year. The technology for most employers to meet the new standards is widely available and affordable and many employers are already implementing these necessary measures.


Flexibility for Construction Industry
The rule provides commonsense, affordable and flexible strategies for employers to protect workers.  Special flexibility is provided for the construction industry.  For the most common tasks in construction, OSHA has spelled out exactly how to best protect workers.  Table 1 in the construction standard matches common construction tasks with dust control methods, so employers know exactly what they need to do to limit worker exposures to silica.  If employers follow those specifications, they can be sure that they are providing their workers with the required level of protection.  Employers who follow Table 1 correctly are not required to measure workers’ exposure to silica and are not subject to the PEL. And if employers have better ideas about how to provide protection, they can do that too — as long as they make sure that their methods effectively reduce their workers’ exposure to silica dust.
 

Help Is Available
Visit OSHA's silica rule webpage at www.osha.gov/silica for a direct link to the standards, factsheets, answers to frequently asked questions, and to sign up for email updates on compliance dates and resources. OSHA provides help for employers, including technical assistance about effective safety and health programs, training and education at www.osha.gov/employers.  Resources specifically for small businesses, including information about OSHA’s free On-site Consultation program, can be found at www.osha.gov/smallbusiness.
 
Confined Space
On May 4, 2015, OSHA issued a new standard for construction work in confined spaces, which was effective August 3, 2015.  Confined spaces can present physical and atmospheric hazards that can be avoided if they are recognized and addressed prior to entering these spaces to perform work.  

The new standard, Subpart AA of 29 CFR 1926, will help prevent construction workers from being hurt or killed by eliminating and isolating hazards in the confined spaces at construction sites.  This is similar to the way workers in other industries are already protected.

 For more information go to www.osha.gov