April 28, 2022

Regional Emphasis Program Targets Silica Overexposures Among Stone Workers

A new Regional Emphasis Program (REP) developed by OSHA is intended to identify and reduce respirable crystalline silica hazards in the cut stone and stone products industry in OSHA Region 8, which comprises the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. According to the agency, 30 percent of this region’s documented overexposures to respirable crystalline silica in the past 10 years occurred in the cut stone and stone products industry. The REP will also address struck-by and crushing hazards for the handling of granite, marble, limestone, slate, and other stone slabs. Enforcement related to the REP is set to begin on May 17.

OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to silica on the job. Workers in the cut stone and stone products industry are exposed to respirable crystalline silica dust during activities such as manufacturing stone countertops and cutting or crushing stone. A report published by CDC in 2019 identified 18 cases of silicosis, including two fatalities, among stone fabrication workers in the states of California, Colorado, Texas, and Washington during the years 2017–2019. The report notes that the affected workers worked primarily with engineered stone, which “contains substantially more silica” than natural stone. Silicosis is a preventable occupational disease attributable to the inhalation of respirable crystalline silica particles. Before 2017–2019, only one case of silicosis had been reported among engineered stone fabrication workers in the U.S., according to CDC.

Previous reports in other countries have confirmed the existence of multiple silicosis cases among stone workers. In February 2019, the Australian news agency ABC published information about silicosis among stone workers in the state of Queensland, where nearly 100 stoneworkers tested positive for silicosis and 15 had developed progressive massive fibrosis, a severe form of the disease. (“By the Numbers” in the April 2019 Synergist discusses information about silicosis among stoneworkers in Queensland, Australia.) According to the authors of CDC’s 2019 report, the findings of the Queensland government “suggest that there might be many more U.S. cases that have yet to be identified.”

In 2015, OSHA and NIOSH issued a joint hazard alert (PDF) on crystalline silica exposures during the manufacture, finishing, and installation of stone countertops. The alert describes how silica exposure can be mitigated in most countertop operations by monitoring the air to determine worker exposures to silica; controlling dust exposures through engineering controls and safe work practices; and providing respiratory protection to workers when needed.

More information about the REP can be found in OSHA’s press release.