New OSHA Silica Standards: What does it mean for you?Sara Meade
After much collaboration with industry, scientific research, and public hearings, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently administered a new regulation involving airborne silica dust. With the incorporation of staggered compliance dates, the rule also provides flexibility to help employers meet requirements in a sufficient time frame. The rule consists of two standards, one for Construction and one for General Industry and Maritime. The new standards apply to businesses performing specific tasks that can cause silica material to become airborne. OSHA approximates about 600,000 places of employment and two million construction workers are impacted by the standard.
Crystalline silica is an industrial material found in the earth’s crust. Quartz is the most common form of silica and is a component of sand, rock, concrete, stone, brick, and mortar. Respirable silica particles are generated when these materials are cut, drilled, or ground up. Roughly 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust in the workplace– with nearly 90% employed in the construction industry.
The health risks of silica were first observed in the 1930s, when there was a significant rise in work-related deaths. When OSHA formed in 1971, basic restrictions to silica exposure were initially established. Unfortunately, those restrictions remained unchanged since then, and the number of workers suffering from silica-related illnesses increased. When silica dust is inhaled, it is extremely hazardous. Breathing in these small particles can cause lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and silicosis. Silicosis is a debilitating, nonreversible and sometimes fatal lung disease that causes scarring of the lungs and worsens over time.
The final rule establishes a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour work day. Also included with the rule are provisions for limiting workers’ access to areas where silica exposures are high, using effective methods for decreasing exposure, and providing medical exams and adequate training for workers. Once it’s in effect, OSHA estimates that the rule will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis every year. For more information on the new silica standards, contact your nearest OSHA office or visit www.osha.gov/silica. You can also contact Industrial Supply’s Safety Specialist, Tyler Whipple, for more help concerning silica trainings.