Weekly Compliance Digest – Crystalline Silica Final Rule

April 1, 2016 By
In a Weekly Compliance Digest published in January, we gave more details on OSHA's proposed rule on crystalline silica exposure. In this edition of the Weekly Compliance Digest, we cover the final rule that was announced last week.

Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica (81 FR 16285)

What is it?

Last week, OSHA announced a final rule amending its existing standards for occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. A proposed rule was sent by OSHA to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review on December 21, 2015. In its most recent regulatory agenda, OSHA had indicated plans to publish the final silica rule in February 2016.

Crystalline silica becomes dangerous when it is respirable. OSHA estimates that, once the effects of the final rule become fully realized, the rule will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year. Silicosis is an incurable and progressive disease. Crystalline silica has also been linked to other diseases such as lung cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. In addition, OSHA estimates that the final rule will provide net benefits of about $7.7 billion per year.

Who is affected?

According to OSHA, about 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, and are located in the following industries:

  • Construction: About 2 million workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone.
  • General industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking): About 300,000 workers.
  • Workers are also exposed in maritime workplaces.

What are the requirements?

The final rule includes the following key provisions:

  • A new permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift. This is a significant change from the current PEL, adopted in 1971, of 100 micrograms for general industry and 250 micrograms for construction and shipyards.
  • Use of engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) and work practices to limit worker exposure to the PEL.
  • Providing respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure to the PEL.
  • Limiting worker access to high exposure areas.
  • Training workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
  • Providing medical exams to highly exposed workers.

What is next?

The final rule includes two standards, one for Construction and one for General Industry and Maritime. Both standards will take effect on June 23, 2016. The compliance dates for the requirements of the final rule vary by industry, and are the following:

  • Construction: June 23, 2017 (one year after the effective date).
  • General Industry and Maritime: June 23, 2018 (two years after the effective date)
  • Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking): June 23, 2018 (two years after the effective date) for all provisions except Engineering Controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021.

UPDATE: On April 6, 2017, OSHA announced a delay in enforcement of the crystalline silica standard that applies to the construction industry. Originally scheduled to begin on June 23, 2017, enforcement will instead begin on September 23, 2017.

Here are articles where you can find more information on reactions to the rule from worker and industry associations:

Visit Enablon Insights again next Friday for a brand new Weekly Compliance Digest!

Categories: EHS

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