Cliff Notes on OSHA’s New Silica Rule
Date of Required Compliance for Construction Industry: June 23, 2017
Date of Required Compliance for General Industry: June 23, 2018
Could silica be the new asbestos? Hopefully not, but OSHA has issued a new silica standard for construction that will leave employers susceptible to lawsuits if they don’t comply. Like asbestos, harmful silica particles can enter the lungs. It has been documented that respirable crystalline silica exposure can lead to health effects such as silicosis (an occupational lung disease causing shortness of breath, inflammation and scarring), lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease. Therefore, OSHA has drastically reduced the permissible exposure limit and provided guidance as to how to ensure that the new limit isn’t exceeded. This new rule just went into effect this year; so now is the time to protect your employees from harmful exposure, and your company from receiving a phone call when class action lawsuit commercials start popping up years from now.
Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in MANY construction materials. It is a component of materials such as sand, stone, rock, concrete, block, mortar, drywall, and glass. Common exposures to crystalline silica occur during manufacturing, crushing, sawing, drilling, or cutting of any of the materials listed above. OSHA estimates that approximately 2,000,000 construction workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplace, and that more than 840,000 of these are exposed to silica conditions that exceed the new permissible exposure limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) of air. This limit is half of the previous limit for general industry, and five times lower than the previous limit for construction.
In general, OSHA’s Final Rule on Silica:
Monitoring vs. Not Monitoring
If you want to know where your company stands as far as employee exposure to crystalline silica, Crossroads Environmental, LLC can provide third party monitoring that will either document that your employees are not being exposed to silica levels over the permissible exposure limit (PEL), or to use as a starting point to see what control measures are needed to lower the respirable crystalline silica being generated. Wouldn’t you rather find out on your own where you stand, rather than in response to an employee complaint, OSHA violation, and/or by receiving a hefty fine?
A full eight hours of monitoring is preferred by the method, but not required. The monitoring is performed by placing a small monitoring unit on a minimum of one employee per task (including any task that would be susceptible to crystalline silica exposure). The unit pulls air through a collection device, which is submitted to an accredited laboratory for analysis. Typical turnaround time for results is 1-2 weeks.
Is silica monitoring required? Not if the control measures outlined in Table 1 of the OSHA Final Rule are followed; however, the only way to document that the employees are not being exposed to crystalline silica over the PEL is by monitoring. If you aren’t concerned about the actual exposure limits, but just want to be compliant with the rule, then using the control methods outlined in Table 1 may be your best option. Note: Some of the control measures listed in Table 1 require the use of respiratory protection, and the use of respiratory protection for 30 days or more per year requires employee medical surveillance. Medical surveillance can be costly, and is not necessary if it is documented that the PEL isn’t being exceeded.
In summary, there is some flexibility as to how to comply with the new standard, but no flexibility as to whether or not you must comply. If your company generates dust, chances are the new rule applies to you.