OSHA issues final rule on respirable silica dust

By |  April 1, 2016

osha-logoThe U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) announced a final rule to improve protections for workers exposed to respirable silica dust.

According to OSHA, the final rule will improve worker protection by reducing the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift. The rule will also require employers to use engineering controls, such as water or ventilation, and work practices to limit worker exposure. Employers will also be required to provide respiratory protection when controls are not able to limit exposures to the permissible level; limit access to high exposure areas; train workers; and provide medical exams to highly exposed workers.

The rule will also provide greater certainty and ease of compliance to construction employers, OSHA says, including many small employers, by including a table of specified controls they can follow to be in compliance, without having to monitor exposures. Compliance dates will be staggered to ensure employers have sufficient time to meet the requirements, the agency says.

The final rule is written as two standards – one for construction and one for general industry and maritime. Employers covered by the construction standard have until June 23, 2017 to comply with most requirements, according to OSHA. Employers covered by the general industry and maritime standard have until June 23, 2018 to comply with most requirements.

“More than 80 years ago, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins identified silica dust as a deadly hazard and called on employers to fully protect workers,” says Thomas E. Perez, U.S. secretary of labor. “This rule will save lives. It will enable workers to earn a living without sacrificing their health. It builds upon decades of research and a lengthy stakeholder engagement process, including the consideration of thousands of public comments, to finally give workers the kind of protection they deserve and that Frances Perkins had hoped for them.”

OSHA estimates that when the final rule on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica becomes fully effective, it will save more than 600 lives annually and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis. The agency also estimates the final rule will provide net benefits of about $7.7 billion per year.

“The previous exposure limits were outdated and did not adequately protect workers,” says David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “Limiting exposure to silica dust is essential. Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. Today, we are taking action to bring worker protections into the 21st century in ways that are feasible and economical for employers to implement.”

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

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