07.19.2016 OSHA Promulgates New Rule on Respirable Silica Particles
Workers who inhale very small crystalline silica particles are at increased risk of developing serious — and often deadly — silica-related diseases. These tiny particles (known as “respirable” particles) can penetrate deep into workers’ lungs and cause silicosis, an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease. Crystalline silica exposure also puts workers at risk for developing lung cancer, other potentially debilitating respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease. According to OSHA, approximately 2.3 million people in the United States are exposed to silica at work.
Industry has long controlled worker exposure to these particles by using vacuum systems and other widely-available equipment. However, in an effort to better reduce exposure, OSHA recently issued its long-awaited final rule amending the standard for occupational exposure to respirable silica (the “Rule”). Companies with workers exposed to respirable silica particles must abide by the Rule and make necessary adjustments to engineering and work practice controls. As described below, of particular importance is OSHA’s reduction of the permissible exposure limit (PEL).
The Rule is comprised of two standards – one for Construction and one for General Industry and Maritime. In the construction industry, workers commonly exposed include those who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing material such as concrete and stone. In general industry and maritime, the most severe exposures typically occur from sandblasting operations (e.g., paint and oil removal, glass etching); however, exposures also occur during such things as cement and asphalt paving, brick manufacturing, and hydraulic fracturing.
Most notably, the Rule establishes a new PEL for all industries of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) averaged over an 8-hour shift. This is a significant reduction from the prior standards, which were approximately 100 µg/m3 for General Industry and 250 µg/m3 for Construction and Maritime. In addition to the PEL, the Rule includes revised provisions for exposure assessment, methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping. Both standards take effect on June 23, 2016, although compliance with most requirements is not required for another year or two depending upon the industry. Nevertheless, to prevent unnecessary liability, companies should familiarize themselves now with the regulatory requirements and begin planning for any modifications that will need to be made to their workplace.
81 Fed. Reg. 16286 (Mar. 25, 2016).