OSHA Issues Final Rule on Silica Exposure
On Thursday March 24, OSHA announced a final rule to protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica. According to OSHA, will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year. The final rule will apply to construction, general industry, maritime and the hydraulic fracturing industries.
This new rule has been in the works for years as silica hazards have been well-documented since the 1930s, with the first standards limiting worker exposure published in 1971. At that time, the OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for crystalline silica was 10 milligrams per cubic meter, based on the threshold limit value (TLV) published by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). Since 1971, the ACGIH reduced their TLV for respirable silica dust multiple times all while OSHA’s PEL remained at 10 milligrams. Now, the final rule will reduce the PEL to .05 milligrams (or 50 micrograms) per cubic meter, which will match the current published TLV.
In addition to the exposure limit being substantially reduced, the final rule will also require that a written exposure control plan – specifying how the silica hazards are controlled – be generated. This plan must be implemented by a “competent person” designated for the task.
Some common engineering controls recommended for reducing or eliminating silica exposure are:
- The use of water attachments on power tools or water pumps/hoses to wet the work surface
- The use of vacuum attachments or local exhaust ventilation to collect any silica dust before it becomes airborne
When engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure, respiratory protection must be provided.
For training, all workers must be trained on silica risks and how to limit exposures. This can be achieved through daily task planning to review the work, the exposures and the control methods to be put in place. In addition, all employers must offer medical exams every three years to highly exposed workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
The final rule will take effect on September 23, 2017. A compliance schedule has been developed by OSHA to specify when each industry must be in full compliance of the new requirements:
The information provided in this article is a short summary of the OSHA final rule on the Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica. Not all requirements specified by the final rule are included in this article. If you have any questions regarding the final rule and how it applies to your industry or workplace, please contact your Assurance Safety Advocate.
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