OSHA’s Silica Rule Takes Effect Despite Legal Challenges
OSHA’s Final Rule seeks to protect workers from inhaling harmful amounts of respirable silica

Implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s final rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica officially takes effect on June 23, 2016.

Despite several pending lawsuits, David O’Connor, director of the Office of Chemical Hazards (Non-Metals), OSHA’s Directorate of Standards & Guidance, told members of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety & Health last Wednesday that the agency expects implementation to proceed as planned. “It’s very early in the process so this is something that will play out over the coming years, but we don’t anticipate at this time it will affect the implementation dates of the standard or any aspect of the standard,” he said.

The final rule, which was released in May, has received a total of eleven petitions filed in various circuits. A number of industry groups have complained the rule is not needed and is both technologically and economically infeasible. Included in these groups are the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) and the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA).

The rule is comprised of two standards, one for Construction and one for General Industry and Maritime, and is estimated to save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year. According to the official OSHA website, “About 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.” Exposure to respirable silica can lead to silicosis, lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and kidney diseases.

Key Provisions

  • Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
  • Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
  • Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.
  • Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.

Click here to view the entire rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica.