In one of the most significant safety regulation changes in years, OSHA has announced its final rule to further limit workers’ exposure to respirable silica dust.
The biggest change from OSHA’s existing silica regulation: a reduction in the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter, averaged over an eight-hour shift.
OSHA issued two separate rules: one for the construction industry, and one for general industry and maritime.
Employers covered by the construction standard have until June 23, 2017 to comply with most requirements. General industry and maritime employers have until June 23, 2018 to comply. Additional compliance time is provided to offer medical exams to some workers and for hydraulic fracturing employers to install dust control to meet the new exposure limit.
The final rule also:
- requires employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) and work practices to limit worker exposure; provide respiratory protection when controls aren’t able to limit exposure to the permissible level; limit access to high exposure areas; train workers; and provide medical exams to highly exposed workers
- provides a table of specified controls construction employers, particularly smaller ones, can follow to be in compliance, without having to monitor exposures, and
- staggers compliance dates to ensure employers have sufficient time to meet the requirements, including extra time for all general industry employers to offer medical surveillance to employees exposed between the permissible exposure limit and the action level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.
Exposure to respirable silica can cause lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.
OSHA estimates the new regulations will save more than 600 lives annually and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis, an incurable and progressive disease, each year.
“The previous limits were outdated and did not adequately protect workers,” said OSHA chief David Michaels.
Some business groups oppose the new rule.
The National Association of Manufacturers called the new regulations “fundamentally flawed.” NAM says OSHA drastically underestimated the costs the rule will bring to businesses.
“We will be working with Congress and exploring all options to prevent this rule and its devastating consequences from becoming a reality,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons in a written statement.