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OSHA Delays Silica Rule Enforcement

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

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The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s new standard for respirable silica took effect Sept. 23, but the agency has extended the date of enforcement by 30 days.

Enforcement Delay

A memo from acting OSHA administrator Thomas Galassi noted that the agency would “carefully evaluate good faith efforts” by employers to meet the silica standard.

“OSHA will render compliance assistance and outreach to assure that covered employers are fully and properly complying with its requirements,” Galassi added in the memo, with the addition that OSHA would focus on assisting employers with fully implementing the standard properly.

Technology Publishing Co.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s deadline for complying with its new respirable silica rule has passed, but the government agency has extended the date of compliance enforcement by 30 days.

OSHA has also indicated that if an employer has not taken steps to comply, the agency may consider issuing a citation. For any citations proposed during this 30-day enforcement leniency period, each will be subject to a national office review. The agency will also offer interim citation and inspection guidelines before the timeframe is up.

Industry Reaction

Kevin Cannon, the senior director of safety and health services for the Associated General Contractors of America, told Engineering News-Record that even though the 30-day extension would give employers more time better understand the terms of compliance, he was disappointed with OSHA’s compliance assistance system was restricted to site visits. “That will only be a few people,” he added.

Daniel Annon, who has served as both a senior industrial hygienist and past president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, also noted that the additional 30 days could be helpful in the long run.

Silica Rule

The final silica rule amended silica exposure regulations for the first time since 1971, reducing the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift.

Additional provisions mandatory for employers also include:

  • Using engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) and implementing work practices to limit worker exposure;
  • Providing respiratory protection when controls are not able to limit exposures to the permissible level;
  • Limiting access to high-exposure areas;
  • Training workers; and
  • Providing medical exams to highly exposed workers.

The final rule is written as two standards: one for construction and one for general industry and maritime.

Silica is one of Earth's most common minerals, found in stone, rock, brick, mortar and block. Exposure to airborne silica dust occurs in operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick, block and other stone products and in operations using sand products, such as in glass manufacturing, foundries and abrasive blasting.

Concrete cutting
© / Mogala

Exposure to airborne silica dust occurs in operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick, block and other stone products and in operations using sand products, such as in glass manufacturing, foundries and abrasive blasting.

Studies indicate that breathing in silica dust can lead to the debilitating and potentially fatal pulmonary disease silicosis—an incurable and progressive disease—as well as lung cancer.

According to OSHA, about 2.3 million men and women are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including two million construction workers who drill and cut silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone. An additional 300,000 workers in operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries and hydraulic fracturing also face exposure.

Contention in Court

Previously, construction industry groups had challenged OSHA’s new rule in court, stating that it was not economically nor technically feasible, and that it did not factor how often construction work changes.

OSHA has said in the past that the rule will save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis annually.

Earlier this year, a panel of federal judges denied a request from industry groups to delay proceedings in a court case that challenges the rule. Industry groups, which opposed the measure on a broader scale, had sought a 60-day delay, in hopes that the extra time would give the new presidential administration time to consider the case, and possibly drop the government’s defense of the rule.

That appeal remains on schedule, and oral arguments were heard by a three-judge panel Sept. 26.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Good Technical Practice; Government; North America; OSHA; Silica; Silica rule

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