Earlier this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule to limit workers’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Crystalline silica can be inhaled through activities that create dust from such materials as stone, concrete, sand, or mortar. Inhaling even small amounts of this material may put workers at risk for developing silicosis, lung cancer, and other serious diseases.
While OSHA set the effective date for the final rule as June 23, 2016, it provided a schedule of one to three years (depending on the industry) from that effective date for full compliance. Just how seriously OSHA takes occupational exposure to crystalline silica is reflected in the permissible exposure limits established in the new rule. The new rule’s updated permissible exposure limit represents, for construction workers, a fivefold reduction from the previously acceptable exposure limit, and for workers in general industry, a twofold reduction from the previously acceptable exposure limit. By establishing this new rule, OSHA believes it will have a significant favorable impact on the health of workers and predicts nearly 700 fatalities and 1,600 nonfatal silicosis cases will be avoided each year, along with an annual net benefit to the economy of about $7.7 billion.
What’s in the New OSHA Silica Exposure Rule?
The rule comprises two standards — one for the Construction Industry, and one for General Industry and Maritime. Both standards require:
- A written exposure control plan that describes the tasks to be completed and the related controls necessary to reduce silica exposure to acceptable levels
- Establishment of restricted areas where untrained worker
s are prohibited from entering
- Comprehensive training for all workers on operations that result in exposure to silica, including best practices on how to limit the amount of exposure
- Medical surveillance for employees who will be exposed at or above the action level for 20 or more days a year
- Record-keeping of workers’ silica exposure and the results of medical exams related to this exposure
- A restriction of housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where it is avoidable or where an alternative is available
- An action level of 25 μg/m³ (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air) averaged over an eight-hour day, and a permissible exposure limit of 50 μg/m³ averaged over an eight-hour day
Some businesses have already embraced the changes the final rule requires and are focusing on effective dust control means and methods and the health outcomes for their employees. These companies are ready for compliance and, in some cases, are well ahead of schedule.
If your company is not as far along in the process of understanding and complying with the new rule, or if you have questions about the new rule and its impact on your business, talk to your insurance broker and ask him or her about best practices for managing silica exposure and how you can best protect your workers.
For more information, visit the OSHA fact sheet on the rule.
Philadelphia, PA, 19102