The updated OSHA Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for General Industry is in effect as of June 23, 2018. The new standard dramatically reduces the amount of respirable silica dust to which workers can be exposed. The updated permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour day. The standard also establishes an action level at 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour day.

Silica exposure remains a serious threat to nearly 2 million U.S. workers, including more than 100,000 workers in high-risk jobs such as construction, abrasive blasting, foundry work, stonecutting, rock drilling, quarry work, and tunnelling. If there is a reasonable expectation of silica exposure above the action level, employers must perform an industrial hygiene study to evaluate exposures. Results above the action level require companies implement preventative measures to keep levels below the PEL.

To prepare:

  • Develop and follow an exposure control plan to describes the tasks and areas where silica exposure may occur and the methods used to protect workers who may be exposed.
  • Use engineering controls like local vacuum systems and water delivery systems to reduce airborne silica dust exposure. Water delivery systems substantially decrease airborne dust, while local vacuum systems catch dust ejected into the air and filter it through a HEPA filter.
  • Restrict housekeeping approaches to methods that do not create airborne dust. Using compressed air and dry sweeping to clean materials and work areas creates significant airborne dust; instead, use wet methods and vacuums.
  • Use respiratory protective equipment (RPE) as a last resort if engineering and administrative controls do not adequately control exposure.
  • Ensure only trained and adequately protected workers enter areas or perform tasks that may result in silica exposure above the PEL.
  • Train workers on silica hazards, including where silica may be found or generated on a jobsite and all established exposure-limiting controls and procedures.
  • Ensure employees receive regular medical exams if they are exposed at or above the action level for 30 or more days per year. Companies are required to offer medical exams to such employees.
  • Maintain all exposure records and medical exams in company records.
  • Share our Minimizing Silica Exposure Toolbox Talk with your employees.

Silica exposure effects are well-documented, and employers must take steps to protect employees from this chronic health hazard. In most cases, silica exposure consequences such as silicosis, lung cancer, other respiratory illnesses, and kidney cancer do not manifest until many years after exposure occurs.

Not sure where to start? RETTEW can help your company develop a silica program and exposure control plan. Our industrial hygiene experts can evaluate exposure risks and provide silica and RPE training and fit testing. Contact Kristen Morgret, CSP at 717.576.2797 to set up a consultation for your company.

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