Preparing for the silica rule

The new rule, Enforcing Crystalline Silica Standard in Construction Industry, will begin September 23.

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration delayed enforcement of the crystalline silica standard  that applies to the construction industry several months to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers. Enforcement will begin in September.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a final rule on silica dust exposure in early 2016, with the goal to curb lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in America’s workers by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The rule is comprised of two standards, one for Construction and one for General Industry and Maritime.

Key provisions

  • Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift (previous limit was 250 micrograms)
  • Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL
  • Provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure
  • Limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures
  • Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health
  • Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.

Most employers can limit harmful dust exposure by using equipment that is widely available — generally using water to keep dust from getting into the air or a ventilation system to remove it from the air.

The rule provides greater compliance assistance to construction employers — many of which run small businesses — by including a table of specified controls they can follow to be in compliance.

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