Is Your Business Ready? The Compliance Deadline for the OSHA Silica Rule is Almost Here
It’s been a long time coming: the deadline for compliance on OSHA’s silica rule arrives next month. The official date is September 23, 2017, 3 months later than the initial June 2017 deadline. This deferral was to allow for employers to be further educated on the new silica rule and make sure that they were prepared for the new September enforcement date.
Revelations on workplace quality necessitated this latest reform. Over 600,000 construction workplaces within the US expose workers to crystalline silica that is small enough to be breathed in. Of the 2 million workers exposed to breathable silica, over 800,000 labored on sites with silica levels that exceeded OSHA’s exposure limit.
Construction workers that are most at risk to inhale silica are those that work predominantly with heavy equipment and materials that contain silica, like concrete and stone. These materials pose a risk once cut, drilled, or ground; these actions release silica into the air. Historically, everything from masks to systems that utilize water and vacuums to control dust has been used as a means to control silica respiration.
Requirements of the OSHA Silica Rule
Goals of the new rules include reducing the incidence of conditions such as lung cancer and silicosis. OSHA estimates that complying with new standards with prevent over 600 lives and prevent 900 new cases annually. Important provisions include:
- Permissible exposure limit (PEL) to respirable crystalline silica for an 8-hour workday is restricted to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air
- Employers must use controls such as water and/or ventilation to reduce PEL exposure
- Employers must provide respirators when controls cannot contain exposure levels
- Access must be limited in high PEL exposure areas
- Employers must provide an exposure control plan and offer medical exams to highly-exposed workers
- Training must be provided to inform workers of silica risks and how to protect themselves
Provisions have been placed within the rule to ensure the proper medical exams are given to workers at risk for silica exposure, as well as extensive information about lung health. OSHA has also given flexibility to assist small businesses in protecting their employees.
Reasons for the Final Rule
The first standards on silica protection were put into place in 1971 when the U.S. Department of Labor created OSHA. Unfortunately, those standards are no longer effective in providing those who work in environments with high respirable silica with a safe workplace. New rules have also been deemed necessary due to new industries that were not covered in the original standards. In order to combat the diseases associated with silica exposure, tighter regulation is crucial.
OSHA made sure to hold itself to the highest standard when compiling the key provisions of the final rule. Sources included a review of scientific studies, industry standards, as well as input directly from industry officials. Due diligence for the rule also included 14 days of public hearings, with over 200 individuals that testified. The public hearings resulted in over 30,000 pages of material that helped extensively guide OSHA in creating the new requirements.
For more information on OSHA’s Final Rule, visit https://www.osha.gov/