OSHA’s new silica exposure guidelines have been passed and will be phased in over the next one to two years. These rules impact construction as well as other industries, excluding agricultural operations. There is still ongoing discussion regarding the details of the ruling and whether there should be some exceptions to the new standards. However, employers should begin the process of reviewing their operations to ensure compliance with these stricter safety requirements. General industry will have two years to come into compliance, while the construction industry has only one year.

Permissible Exposure Limit Reduced

The well-known hazards of silica dust, which has a small particle size and is easily inhaled, include lung scarring, lung cancer, and kidney disease.

Because of the dangers of irreversible harm, the permissible exposure limit for respirable silica dust has been reduced to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight hour day. Employers are exempt from the new guidelines if the PEL is below the actionable limit of 25 μg/m3. Any claim of such exemption must be based on objective data covering foreseeable worksite conditions.

High Risk Occupations and Risk Reduction

In construction environments where certain tasks are well known to create dangerous levels of exposure, a combination of engineering, work practice, and respiratory protection controls may be specifically stipulated by OSHA to reduce the hazard. Wet methods are typically preferred to dry dust collection. Housekeeping rules prohibit sweeping and air blowers for cleaning in areas where such methods might kick up silica dust.

For jobs that require the use of a respirator 30 or more days per year, medical surveillance is also mandatory. A formal exposure control plan must also be established and communicated to high risk workers.

What Employees Have the Right to Know

All workers who may be exposed to silica dust above the actionable limit must be informed of these new safety guidelines. They should also receive training on how to reduce exposure to respirable silica dust. Those who require respiratory protection should go through the full process of being evaluated, fitted, and trained for respirator use. Employees must be notified if they are exposed above the PEL, and be given information on corrective actions taken to remedy silica exposure.

Action Steps for Employers

As a starting place, employers should review their current worksites and job activities to evaluate the presence and level of silica dust. If levels above the actionable limit are found, it’s time for a review of the safety plan to ensure that controls are adequate to reduce exposure below the PEL. For consulting on the new rules, contact David Patzer at dpatzer@dkfsolutions.com today.

For more information about the final rule go to: https://www.osha.gov/silica/index.html