Posted: 31 Jul '18

New Regulations for Silica Exposure Mitigation

Industrial workers who inhale crystalline silica dust particles are at risk of suffering or developing severe silica-related respiratory diseases. These tiny particles are referred to as respirable because they can penetrate your employees’ lungs causing silicosis, lung cancer, kidney disease, or even chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Due to the increased cases of silica exposure as well as related diseases and deaths, federal OSHA decided to adopt industry-wide regulations for respirable crystalline silica. The purpose of the rules is silica exposure mitigation and the protection of industrial and construction workers. The new OSHA regulations for silica exposure mitigation apply to the construction industry and general industry employers.

OSHA Silica Exposure Mitigation Regulations

The OSHA fact sheet highlights steps that you are required to follow to protect your employees. These include assessing workplace exposure, providing workers’ training, and instituting written exposure control plans.

The final silica exposure mitigation rule lowers the PEL (permissible exposure limit) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms/cubic meters of air. Moreover, this new PEL should be averaged over a shift of eight hours.

OSHA estimates put the number of workers in the United States exposed to silica dust to 2.3 million. Of these, two million are in the construction industry. This immediately prompted a need for the federal regulatory body to establish and implement new silica exposure mitigation regulations, which were to come into effect on June 23, 2016.

The New PEL Regulations

OSHA issued the final rule covering PEL as separate standards. One was for the construction industry while the other applied to general industry and maritime. Both were applied in June 2016; however, the maritime and general industry had until June 23, 2016, to comply except in two areas:

  • By June 23, 2020, employers must provide medical surveillance to all of their employees who will be exposed to crystalline silica levels at or above 25 micrograms/cubic meters of air as averaged during a shift of eight hours for over 30 days a year.
  • The oil and gas industry’s hydraulic fracturing operations must institute dust controls to comply with the new PEL regulations by June 23, 2021.

Regardless of which silica exposure mitigation measure you choose to employ at your workplace, you need to do the following:

  • Write an exposure control plan
  • Designate someone competent enough to execute the plan strictly
  • Restrict all housekeeping practices that may expose your workers to silica if there are other options available
  • Train your workers on silica exposure mitigation
  • Keep proper records of your worker’s silica exposure as well as their medical exams

To learn more about the new OSHA regulations on silica exposure mitigation practices, contact us, today.