OSHA Sets Date for Silica Standard Proposal
In approaching the end of 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released its long-term regulatory agenda, setting forth the Agency’s schedule for the next 12 months.
Of the topics slated for the year is the release of OSHA’s proposed rule on Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica, slated to take place in June 2020.
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 glass manufacturing, foundries and abrasive blasting.
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 reduces 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.
Mandatory provisions for employers also include:
By May 2018—six months into its enforcement of its new silica rule— OSHA cited more than 100 companies, most commonly for employers’ failure to measure silica levels at all.
Other citations included variations of employers incorrectly following Table 1 procedures. (Table 1 refers to the “Specified Exposure Control Methods When Working With Materials Containing Silica” chart, which was released with the guidelines for the new rule.)
The Table 1 guide, as well as the 101-page booklet that is intended to help contractors follow the new rule, is a point of contention as many organizations and companies maintain that the guides are unclear. (The National Association of Home Builders in Washington has submitted formal compliance questions.)
However, in August 2019, OSHA again requested industry feedback on its respirable crystalline silica standard as it applies to construction.
During the comment period, OSHA specifically sought feedback on “the effectiveness of engineering and work practice control methods not currently included for the tasks and equipment,” which are included in Table 1 of the standard, according to OSHA.
OSHA also requested information on other construction tasks, including equipment, that generate silica, which may be added to Table 1. Information about relevant engineering and work practice control methods would also be included.
Table 1 of the silica standard for construction pertains to appropriate control measures for pieces of equipment connected to silica exposure. Equipment currently covered under this table includes: stationary masonry saws, handheld power saws, walk-behind saws and drivable saws, among others.
Additionally, OSHA was also seeking to revise paragraph (a)(3) of the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for General Industry, a move that would broaden the compliance opportunities for the general industry and maritime employers, using the silica standard as an alternative for the general industry standard. Commentary on that was accepted until Nov. 13.
Future for Crystalline Silica
In June 2020, OSHA intends to release its proposed rule on Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica after reviewing the comments received in the fall.
The Agency intends to take the received information into consideration for potential revisions to Table 1, which serves as a compliance option for construction contractors to achieve compliance with key provisions in the standard.
However, contractors who follow Table 1 "are not required to measure workers’ exposure to silica and are not subject to the PEL."