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​OSHA’s New Regulation on Crystalline Silica: What You Need to Know

By Andrew Cheung

Sponsored by Cority

OSHA has issued two new standards to protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Enforcement of this rule first went into effect for the construction industry last September. On June 23, 2018, enforcement will begin for general industry and maritime operations. To help you comply with the new crystalline silica rule, here’s a quick rundown on why these changes are happening, how they will impact you, and how you can prepare.

3 Reasons Why OSHA Is Doing This

To put it simply, OSHA created these two standards to better protect workers who are exposed to crystalline silica. Adopted in 1971, its existing permissible exposure limit (PEL) for crystalline silica does not adequately protect workers today for three key reasons:

Outdated. The current standard is based on research from the 1960s and does not reflect more recent scientific evidence. Furthermore, since the existing PEL was adopted, the United States National Toxicology Program, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and NIOSH have all identified respirable crystalline silica as a human carcinogen.

Inconsistent. Current PELs for construction and shipyard workers allow them to be exposed to risks that are more than twice as high as for workers in general industry. The new standard provides consistent levels of protection for workers across all sectors.

Hard for employers to understand. Current PELs for construction and shipyards are based on a method for measuring worker exposures that has not been commonly used for more than 40 years.

What’s the Impact?

According to OSHA, this new regulation affects around two million construction workers who are exposed to crystalline silica across 600,000 workplaces. Under the new regulation, more than 840,000 (or 42 percent) of these employees are exposed to silica levels that exceed the new PEL. Conversely, 300,000 workers are affected in general industry operations across industries such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing.

The new rule is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis, lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and kidney disease. OSHA estimates that the proposed rule (once full effects are realized) will save roughly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis on an annual basis.

Economically, the rule is estimated to provide an average net benefit of approximately $2.8 billion to $4.7 billion annually over the next 60 years, and is expected to result in about $1,242 of annual costs for the average workplace covered by the rule. This rule will have no noticeable impact on the total U.S. employment.

How Do I Prepare?

The new rule requires organizations to adhere to the following:

  • Reduce exposures using effective methods. Employers must create and implement a written exposure control plan to protect workers, designate someone to implement the plan, and restrict housekeeping practices that expose employees to silica if there are available alternatives.
  • Measure employees’ silica exposure. Workers' exposure is limited to a new PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (averaged over an eight-hour day). The new PEL would be the same in all industries covered by the rule.
  • Provide medical exams to workers with silica exposures. Exams (such as chest x-rays and lung function tests) must be administered every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days annually. 
  • Document workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.
  • Train and educate exposed employees on silica-related hazards and ways to limit exposure.

For more information about the rule’s requirements, visit OSHA’s web page on silica.

When Do I Need to Comply?

This rule took effect on June 23, 2016. Industries have one to five years to comply. The following deadlines are the dates by which industries must comply with most of the rule’s provisions:

  • Construction – September 23, 2017 
  • General Industry and Maritime – June 23, 2018
  • Hydraulic Fracturing – June 23, 2018 (provisions for engineering controlshave a compliance date of June 23, 2021)

For a complete explanation of deadlines related to the silica rule, visit the rule’s FAQs page on OSHA’s website.

Summing Up

It’s critical to comply with OSHA guidelines to help keep your employees safe and maintain a healthy relationship with regulators. Cority's EHSQ management solution is intended to help you maintain compliance with OSHA's new crystalline silica regs. For more information, request a demo. 

1802AISNCORIT1 blog author.pngAndrew Cheung is the product marketing specialist at Cority​. He is responsible for Cority’s occupational health, industrial hygiene, and ergonomics solutions. 


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