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OSHA Issues Uniform Silica Guidance

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

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Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a compliance directive designed to ensure uniformity in inspection and enforcement procedures when addressing respirable crystalline silica exposures.

The derivative applies to general industry, maritime and construction.

Crystalline Silica Rule History

For the first time since 1971, OSHA amended silica exposure regulations in a new proposed silica rule, in March 2016. The rule came in the form of two standards—one for construction, and one for general industry and maritime. The construction standard took effect in October 2017, with a 30-day grace period for enforcement, and the maritime standard took effect June 2018.

The new rule reduced the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift. That’s half of the old PEL of 100 micrograms per cubic meter. The rule also establishes an action level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Mogala / Getty Images

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a compliance directive designed to ensure uniformity in inspection and enforcement procedures when addressing respirable crystalline silica exposures.

Mandatory provisions for employers also included:

  • 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.

In October 2017, the 30-day enforcement grace period for the new standard ended and a memorandum released by Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Galassi outlined interim enforcement guidelines that had taken effect.

Six months into its enforcement of its new silica rule—in May 2018—OSHA cited more than 100 companies, most commonly for employers’ failure to measure silica levels at all. However, by August of the following year, OSHA again requested industry feedback on its respirable crystalline silica standard as it applies to construction.

In December, OSHA released its long-term regulatory agenda, highlighting that this upcoming June, the Administration would release its proposed rule on Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica after reviewing the comments received in the fall.

By February, OSHA announced a revision to the National Emphasis Program to identify and reduce or eliminate worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica in general industry, maritime and construction. According to the Administration, the NEP targets industries expected to have the highest numbers of workers exposed to silica and focuses on enforcement of the new silica standards.

In order to pass the new NEP, the following changes were made:

  • Revised application to the lower permissible exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as an eight-hour time-weighted average in general industry, maritime and construction;
  • Updated list of target industries, as listed in the appendix of the NEP; from this list, area offices will develop randomized establishment lists of employers in their local jurisdictions for targeted inspections;
  • Compliance safety and health officers will refer to current enforcement guidance for RCS inspection procedures;
  • All OSHA regional and area offices must comply with this NEP, but they are not required to develop and implement corresponding regional or local emphasis programs; and
  • State plans must participate because of the nationwide exposures to silica.

Following the announcement, OSHA held a 90-day compliance period where stakeholders could receive assistance prior to program inspections.

In April, OSHA announced that it was expanding the NEP program to industries in West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, because they were suspected of having an excess of workers exposed to silica.

“The goal of this NEP is to reduce or eliminate worker exposure to dangerous silica particles, and prevent the risk of workers developing serious silica-related diseases,” said OSHA Philadelphia Regional Administrator Michael Rivera at the time.

“Respirable crystalline silica consists of small silica particles that are generated by cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling and crushing materials such as stone, rock, concrete, brick, block and mortar. Inhaling the dust created during these operations can cause silicosis, an incurable lung disease; lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

In addition, the NEP would also focus on enforcement of two new silica standards, one for the general and maritime industries, and one for the construction industry. OSHA conducted compliance assistance on the expansion until May 3, after which NEP inspections officially began.

Uniform Enforcement

In the new directive, OSHA compliance safety and health officers are provided with guidance on how to enforce silica standard requirements, including:

  • Methods of compliance;
  • Table 1 tasks and specified exposure control methods;
  • Exposure assessments;
  • Housekeeping;
  • Respiratory protection;
  • Regulated areas;
  • Recordkeeping;
  • Employee information and training;
  • Medical surveillance; and
  • Communication of hazards.  

However, the directive also provides clarity on major topics, variability in sampling, multi-employer situations and temporary workers.

   

Tagged categories: Department of Labor; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Regulations; Respiratory Protection Standard; Safety; Silica; Silica rule

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