The U.S. Department of Labor first highlighted the health hazards of respirable crystalline silica in the 1930s, after a wave of worker deaths. (See “Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Tragedy” in West Virginia – widely considered America’s worst industrial disaster.) The department set standards to limit worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica in 1971, when OSHA was created. However, no changes have been made since that time and the current standards which are in effect are outdated and do not adequately protect workers from silica-related diseases. To further complicate matters, more and more workers are being exposed to silica in new industries such as stone countertop fabrication and hydraulic fracturing to name a few.
Today, about 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Responsible employers have been protecting workers from harmful exposure to respirable crystalline silica for years, using widely-available equipment that controls dust with water or a vacuum system.
Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule 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.
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.
- Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
- 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.
Both standards contained in the final rule take effect on June 23, 2016, after which industries have one to five years to comply with most requirements, based on the following schedule:
Construction – June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date.
General Industry and Maritime – June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date.Hydraulic Fracturing – June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date for all provisions except Engineering Controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021.
For more information on loss control services contact Jeff Rausch, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, P: 502-708-3124 www.RMSC.com
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