Well, here you have it the 3rd and final part to my Silica blog series. As I had mentioned in my previous blog the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a final rule to curtail lung cancer, silicosis, COPD and kidney disease in workers by regulating their exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The rule is included into two standards, one for Construction and one for General Industry and Maritime.
In review from previous blogs OSHA estimates that this rule will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year. About 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Responsible employers have been protecting workers from harmful exposure to respirable crystalline silica for years, using widely-available equipment that controls dust with water or a vacuum system.1
This ruling for Silica will reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micro grams per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift. It requires employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure or provide respirators when unable to apply controls. Medical exams will be used to monitor employees, which will provide information about their lung health over time.
The standard will require employers to:
- Measure the amount of silica that workers are exposed to
- Protect workers from respirable crystalline silica
- Limit workers’ access to areas where exposure are above the PEL
- Use dust controls to protect workers from silica
- Provide respirators when dust controls are not providing proper elimination
- Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica
- Establish and implement a written exposure control plan
- Offer medical exams
- Train workers on silica exposure and ways to limit exposure
- Keep records of silica exposure and medical exams of workers’
In the final rule both standards took effect on June 23, 2016. Of course there are steps to be taken and a period of implementation. Employers have to be in compliance with this ruling by June 23, 2018.
With the exception of:
- Medical surveillance must be offered to employees who will be exposed above the PEL for 30 or more days a year starting on June 23, 2018.
- Medical surveillance must be offered to employees who will be exposed at or above the action level for 30 or more days a year starting on June 23, 2020.
- Hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry must implement engineering controls to limit exposures to the new PEL by June 23, 2021.
I personally am happy to see these changes finally being made. I am sure many join me in this feeling, too, knowing their loved ones will have these protections in place so they can enjoy their later years without work related breathing issues.