New federal regulations from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration aimed at reducing the health threat from crystalline silica dust went into effect for the construction industry on September 23. Here’s a primer on the new guidelines and what they mean.
Crystalline silica is a common mineral that’s found in sand, concrete, brick, block, stone and mortar. Exposure to crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease.
To reduce the risk for certain workers, OSHA has reduced its permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica – very small particles typically at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand found on beaches or playgrounds – to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average in all industries covered by the rule. OSHA has also implemented an Action Level of 25 µg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average, meaning that when readings at a facility exceed that level, the company must take the required steps to minimize exposure to its workers.
About 2 million construction workers are exposed to silica dust each year while cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, or crushing materials or while sandblasting. OSHA estimates that more than 40 percent of those workers are exposed to silica levels that exceed the new permissible exposure limit.
What are the new rules?
OSHA’s new rules require employers to take steps to protect their workers through various dust control methods, such as using water to keep it from getting into the air or using ventilation to capture it. Employers must also:
For more information on OSHA’s new regulations, download the TRC’s fact sheet.
The new OSHA rules are being rolled out in two stages – first for the construction industry and then for general industry and maritime, which covers workers at places such as sand and clay mines, shipyards, power plants and petrochemical facilities. The regulations for those facilities go into effect June 23 of next year.
Where can I find additional information?
For a quick overview of how the rule impacts the construction industry, check OSHA’s fact sheet. The agency also has a Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction as well as a webpage devoted to crystalline silica.