It took some time, but OSHA finally made a decision on silica dust. The ruling, which takes effect on June 23, 2016, provides significantly more stringent rules and regulations. Construction companies and employers will have one year after the judgment takes effect to comply fully. The goal of the ruling is to limit all employee exposure to respirable silica as much as possible.
OSHA's decision culminated from a yearlong push to reduce employees’ exposure to this dangerous dust for the first time since 1971. In theory, the new regulations should be beneficial to the industry. However, many battled long and hard to ensure the law would not get passed. Why?
The Industry Against Regulation
Nearly every employer within the construction sector was against adding additional rulings with regards to silica dust. Many claimed the current rules did more than enough to combat the dangers of silica– when enforced properly. OSHA didn't agree, nor did they believe laws were being enforced properly.
Construction industry insiders also claimed the new regulations would hinder profits and be exceptionally costly to implement. Again, this was not OSHA's concern; when it came to silica dust, employee safety was the only concern.
Why Is Silica So Dangerous?
Nearly 2.3 million workers in the United States are exposed to silica in the workplace every year. This can lead to numerous health issues, including death, lung cancer, lung disease, kidney disease, and more. Even inhaling a small amount of silica dust can lead to significant health issues. Many times dust is inhaled during workplace activities like sawing, drilling, jackhammering, milling, and crushing.
The Major Changes
The new OSHA ruling regarding silica dust offers significant changes. The major one is the sharp reduction in acceptable levels of silica dust per cubic meter of air. 250 uG of silica per cubic meter of air used to be acceptable. Now, they only permit 50 uG of silica per cubic meter of air on a construction site.
This isn't the only change, either. OSHA went further and requires engineering controls like water and ventilation to make sure the acceptable limit is not exceeded.
OSHA now requires that respirators be provided if engineering controls cannot keep levels below the exposure limit. Restricted access to any high-exposure areas is now a requirement.
Written exposure control plans are mandatory now, too. A competent individual must be put in charge of implementing these written plans. Medical exams must be offered to all employees required to wear a respirator for more than 30 days each year.
Employers must also train employees on the dangers of silica dust and what they can do to avoid it. A detailed record must be kept of medical exams and silica exposure over time.
Silica Dust, OSHA, and Upset
Overall, the silica dust rulings have not been met with great fanfare from those within the industries. However, OSHA is not backing down. The regulatory agency claims many concessions were made when creating the new rulings, especially with the benefit of construction companies in mind.
OSHA has created many special programs for small to medium-sized businesses in high-hazard industries. These programs are designed to help these employers efficiently meet regulations while reducing costs. Many of the programs offer free and confidential help, including tips on complying with the new standards, advice on identifying any hazards within the workplace, and improving or implementing safety and health management systems.
Have questions about Silica dust and Silicosis?
Contact Skyline Risk Management, Inc., (718) 267-6600to voice your concerns.