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OSHA’s Final Rule on Silica Exposure

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The new rule requires engineering controls and reduces permissible exposure limit

The hazards of respirable crystalline silica are by no means new or unknown. The Department of Labor first conducted studies on the effects of Silica Exposure back in the 1930’s and had long known exposure to be a contributor of chronic bronchitis, silicosis, and even lung cancer. In June 2016, OSHA issued their Final Rule to curb these potentially life-ending diseases that comprises two standards for Construction and General Industry and Maritime.

What the Final Rule on Silica Exposure means to workers

The key provisions of the Final Rule reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The new PEL is averaged over an 8-hour shift. The rule includes a provision for medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.

What the Final Rule on Silica Exposure means to employers

For employers, the new rule requires them to use engineering controls, like water or ventilation, on a job site to limit exposure to PEL. Employers are also required to provide respirators when engineering controls are inadequate in limiting workers’ exposure to silica dust; limit access to high exposure areas; develop written exposure control plans, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposure. OSHA will provide employers flexibility to help them (especially small businesses) to develop strategies to protect workers from silica exposure.

Compliance

The new rule went into effect on June 23rd, 2016 but the full compliance schedule is as follows (by Industry Type):

  • Construction – must be fully compliant by 6/23/2017, one year after the rule’s effective date
  • General Industry and Maritime – must be fully compliant by 6/23/2018, two years after the rule’s effective date
  • Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) – compliance of all provisions except Engineering Controls by 6/23/2018. All provisions (fully compliant) by 6/23/2021.

OSHA estimates that the rule will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year, once its effects are fully realized. The Final Rule is projected to provide net benefits of about $7.7 billion, annually. You can read the full release on OSHA’s website here.