OSHA Issues New Silica Rules

Last week the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new rules related to silica which could impact any landscape companies that drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and requires controls to keep workers from breathing silica dust. OSHA indicated that they issued the rule to curb lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in America’s workers by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

The new rule contains the following key provisions:

  • Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
  • Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.

According to OSHA, most employers can limit harmful dust exposure in practical ways, using equipment that is widely available – generally using water or a vacuum system to divert or capture dust at the source. Employers have the flexibility to choose equipment based on its overall performance in complying with the standards.

To help employers comply with the standard, OSHA has developed a variety of resources, including fact sheets, Frequently Asked Questions, and a video. Small Entity Compliance Guides (one for construction and one for general industry/maritime) are also in the works and should be available within 90 days.  For more information, please see the OSHA Silica Final Rule Web page.

The final rule takes effect on June 23, 2016, with one year to comply (June 23, 2017) with all requirements except the methods of sample analysis (June 23, 2018).

NALP members who have questions about safety rules and best practices, have access to the association’s Safety Advisor.

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