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MIOSHA Launches Silica Program

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

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The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as part of the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, announced last year that it would be launching a state-wide emphasis program to reduce employee exposures to respirable crystalline silica and prevent silicosis.

According to the program released last summer, the program’s instructions apply to the Construction Safety and Health Division, Consultation Education and Training Division, the General Industry Safety and Health Division, and the Technical Services Division.

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.

Watcha / Getty Images

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as part of the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, announced last year that it would be launching a state-wide emphasis program to reduce employee exposures to respirable crystalline silica and prevent silicosis.

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.

By January, OSHA issued more than a dozen fact sheets related to the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction, with a focus on informing employers on how to properly implement controls, respiratory protection and work practices.

However, 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. 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.

A few months later in 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.

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.

Most recently, in July 2020, OSHA issued a compliance directive designed to ensure uniformity in inspection and enforcement procedures when addressing respirable crystalline silica exposures in general industry, maritime and construction.

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.

Silica Program in Michigan

Announced in MIOSHA’s Fall 2020 online newsletter, the agency proclaimed that the state would be entering a 12-month emphasis program on silica exposure and preventing silicosis.

In addition to conducting inspections as jobsites where workers are most likely to be exposed to silica, the program includes outreach to affected industries to consult, educate and train employers and the public about the dangers of silica. Establishments can also participate in consultative audits by the agency to help identify silica hazards, identify and implement a comprehensive safety and health system, as well as silica monitoring.

Specifically, MIOSHA intends to conduct 88 inspections before the enforcement delay expires, as feasible with business shutdowns, inspection resource limitations, or other impediments due to COVID-19. According to MIOSHA, the goal is based on the requirement in the OSHA NEP that each of its regions target respirable crystalline silica in at least 2% of its inspections every year. (2% of the 4,396 inspections conducted by the agency in fiscal year 2019 is 88.)

For the intended inspections, MIOSHA has compiled a list of industries with historically high silica exposure and a prevalence of silicosis cases. In the construction industry, the list and number of establishments in the state includes:

  • Residential Building Construction (18,722);
  • Nonresidential Building Construction (1,854);
  • Utility System Construction (828);
  • Land Subdivision (2,254);
  • Highway, Street, and Bridge Construction (683);
  • Other Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction (276);
  • Foundation, Structure, and Building Exterior Contractors (6,224);
  • Building Equipment Contractors (9,462);
  • Building Finishing Contractors (6,506); and
  • Other Specialty Trade Contractors (7,293).

In general industry, the establishments include:

  • Pottery, Ceramics, and Plumbing Fixture Manufacturing (1);
  • Clay Building Material and Refractories Manufacturing (15);
  • Other Pressed and Blown Glass and Glassware Manufacturing (4);
  • Glass Container Manufacturing (0);
  • Ready-Mix Concrete Manufacturing (79);
  • Concrete Block and Brick Manufacturing (9);
  • Concrete Pipe Manufacturing (7)
  • Other Concrete Product Manufacturing (30);
  • Cut Stone and Stone Product Manufacturing (14);
  • Ground or Treated Mineral and Earth Manufacturing (5);
  • Mineral Wool Manufacturing (5);
  • All Other Miscellaneous Nonmetallic Mineral Product Manufacturing (3);
  • Iron Foundries (47);
  • Steel Investment Foundries (16);
  • Steel Foundries (except Investment) (23); and
  • Aluminum Foundries (except Die-Casting) (28).

Reports note that the establishments could receive an unannounced investigation visit to ensure federal and MIOSHA standards compliance by an industrial hygienist.


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

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