OSHA has released its final rule on protecting workers from exposure to silica, marking the agency’s first updated regulation for the material since 1971.
- The new permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged during an 8-hour shift.
- It matches what NIOSH recommended in 1974.
- OSHA’s new PEL is half the previous limit for general industry and five times lower than the previous limit for construction.
The new rule covers the following:
- engineering controls
- protective clothing
- medical surveillance
- other issues
OSHA presents the rule as two standards:
- one for general industry and maritime
- one for construction
- lowering the PEL for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged during an 8-hour shift
- mandating that employers use engineering controls and work practices to restrict worker exposure
- barring access to high-exposure sites
- supplying respiratory protection when controls cannot curb exposures to the PEL
- offering medical exams to highly exposed workers
- offering a table of specified controls that construction employers can follow for “greater certainty and ease of compliance” without monitoring exposure*
- allowing employers to have enough time to satisfy requirements by spacing out compliance dates
Both standards are scheduled to go into effect on June 23, 2016. Industries will then have one to five years to meet most requirements:
- The construction industry must comply by June 23, 2017.
- General industry, maritime and hydraulic fracturing must adhere to requirements by June 23, 2018.
- Hydraulic fracturing will have until June 23, 2021, to comply for engineering controls.
The extended times allow employers to provide medical exams to some workers, and gives hydraulic fracturing employers the opportunity to implement dust controls for the new PEL, OSHA states.
For more information, read OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Rule: Construction fact sheet.
*OSHA created the table in response to small construction employers’ claims that measurement is expensive and difficult. Construction employers can avoid measuring by following the table’s principles.