Understanding the New OSHA Rule for Respirable Crystalline Silica


By Tom Enger, MS, CSP, CHMM, CFM, Clemco Industries Corp.


In June 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new silica rule to take effect one year later. This new rule created standards specifically addressing silica exposure as it relates to the disease silicosis.

Clemco Apollo 600 NIOSH-approved respirator

Silicosis is a lung disease that results from inhalation of respirable-size particles of free silica, the major component of ordinary sand. Sand itself does not cause silicosis. It becomes hazardous when it is pulverized causing it to release free-silica particles into the air. This process occurs during abrasive blasting. Exposure to silica dust, or any dust generated by abrasive blasting, is unhealthy, which is why it is so important for blasters to wear NIOSH-approved respirators, such as the Clemco Apollo 600.

Because protecting workers during abrasive blasting is the employer’s responsibility, it is important for all business owners whose operations involve abrasive blasting to educate themselves about the requirements of OSHA’s new standard. OSHA has not outlawed the use of silica sand; rather, it has lowered the permissible exposure limit (PEL).


The new OSHA action level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter represents a dramatic reduction in the PEL, compared with the previous action level of 100 micrograms per cubic meter. The new standard has the potential to impact all operations using abrasive blasting, so a general understanding of the rule, its requirements and how to incorporate them into your own health and safety program is critical.

The new rule comprises two regulations:
29CFR 1910.1053: Respirable Crystalline Silica (for General and Maritime Industries)
29CFR 1926.1153: Respirable Crystalline Silica (for the Construction Industry)
One mg of silica sand in the air is 20 times more than the permissible exposure limit of the new OSHA rule.


While the ruling was long in the making, contractors and business owners across various industries have been given a relatively short time to comply. Construction must comply by June 2017 and Maritime and General Industry by June 2018.

The agency estimates the new ruling will translate to more than 600 lives saved and a reduction of more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year. It projects a net benefit of about $7.7 billion annually.

Anticipated arguments have ensued following OSHA’s announcement of the new ruling. Citing a Centers for Disease Control statistic that silica-related deaths dropped by 93 percent from 1968 to 2007, opponents of the ruling deem its requirements to be not only technologically and economically unfeasible but also unnecessary. OSHA projects program compliance costs will be $511 million, but opponents have said this is unrealistic, claiming total costs could be nearly $5 billion.1


Many industrial and construction activities cause silicosis. Per the OSHA Fact Sheet, the agency attributes silicosis to a number of primary industrial, construction and maritime agents as follows.

Steel and casting foundries during casting cleaning
Tombstone finishing operations
Frosting glass
Sandblasting to prepare surfaces for coating
Cement and brick manufacturing
Asphalt pavement and shingle manufacturing
Porcelain and ceramic manufacturing
Tool-and-die operations
Repair and replacement of refractory brick furnace linings
Manufacturing household abrasives, adhesives, paints, soaps and glass
Sandblasting for paint and rust removal from bridges, concrete structures
Sandblasting of other surfaces
Jack hammering
Rock/well drilling
Concrete mixing
Concrete drilling
Brick and concrete block cutting and sawing
Tuck pointing
Tunneling operations
Sandblasting operations for paint removal and cleaning for surface preparation of steel halls, bulkheads, decks and tanks for paints and coatings.

Dust generated by the abrasive blasting process


To read more about this topic, download the white paper entitled “Respirable Crystalline Silica: Its History, Associated Disease, and the New OSHA Standard — Understanding the New Regulations.”

The paper covers the following topics: History of Occupational Silicosis, Industrial Sources of Silica Exposure, Occupational Illnesses Caused by Silica Exposure, Comparison of the Current Regulation to the New Regulation, Compliance Methods for Safety & Health Programs, and Free Cost-Effective Resources.


  1. OSHA's Final Rule to Protect Workers from Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica, 5/16, OSHA.gov, 7/16
  1. Crystalline Silica Exposure Health Hazard Information, 1/02, OSHA.gov, 7/16

*Claims or positions expressed by sponsoring authors do not necessarily reflect the views of TPC, PaintSquare or its editors.


Tom Enger, MS, CSP, CHMM, CFM, Clemco Industries Corp.

Tom Enger is Director of Product Safety at Clemco Industries Corp. He is a Certified Safety Professional with more than 30 years of environmental, health and safety experience. Expertise: construction, explosives manufacturing, government affairs, abrasive blasting. Experience: adjunct faculty at Maricopa CC (AZ), author of many articles and safety seminar presenter.