How OSHA’s silica rule will impact aggregate operations

By |  August 15, 2017

Enforcement of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) final rule to protect workers in construction from exposure to respirable crystalline silica goes into effect Sept. 23.

The rule was slated to come online earlier in the summer, but OSHA delayed its enforcement to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.

Still, despite the delay, a number of aggregate producers have lingering questions about the rule’s enforcement, its applicability to their operations and how they can be in compliance with the new rule.

Operations that fall under the regulatory purview of the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) are not yet obligated to meet the standard, as MSHA has reportedly tabled implementation of its own rule on silica for the moment. Still, silica remains on the MSHA regulatory agenda, and as one attorney focused on occupational and mine safety and health recently revealed at an industry meeting, MSHA’s rule will likely parallel OSHA’s when developed.

In the meantime, compliance with OSHA’s rule in the construction realm means providing a work environment that reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) averaged over an eight-hour shift, with an action level of 25 µg/m3. A number of industries have argued over the last year and a half that the previous limit (100 µg/m3) was protective when reliably enforced and complied with, adding that silica-related disease has dropped dramatically over the course of four decades since a PEL was put in place.

Plus, it’s not like producers and the vendors who support them haven’t been proactive in this area. A number of manufacturers have been building dust suppression systems into equipment as standard, and the use of personal protection gear among workers is undoubtedly up.

But non-compliance with OSHA’s new standard comes with a price. The maximum fine for those who receive a serious citation is nearly double the previous amount. To avoid violations, employers in construction are required to use engineering controls such as water or ventilation; provide respirators when engineering controls aren’t sufficient; limit work access to high-exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan; offer medical exams to highly exposed workers – and more.

So what should aggregate operations do as they await an MSHA rule that’s surely coming down the pipeline? The wise thing to do would be to engage in conversations with partners who can provide silica controls to your equipment. Also, familiarize yourself with OSHA’s expectations regarding silica so you’re prepared to be in compliance once MSHA develops its own rule.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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