For well over a decade, safety consultants in MN and elsewhere have been warning clients of major changes coming with regard to silica regulations. Now, OSHA’s decades-long effort to create a set of silica regulations has come to fruition.
After a long period of consulting with safety professionals, employers, and technical experts, OSHA has published the long-awaited regulations which are intended to curb diseases including lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in America’s work force by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will provide average net benefits of about $2.8 to $4.7 billion annually over the next 60 years. It is expected to result in annual costs of about $1,242 for the average workplace covered by the rule. The annual cost to a firm with fewer than twenty employees would be less, averaging about $550. The proposed rule is expected to have no discernible impact on total U.S. employment.
The set of standards is comprised of two nearly identical regulations. The first is intended for employees working in the construction industry where two million workers are exposed to silica at often alarming levels. These exposures come from various activities that create dust from stone, concrete and other materials.
The other regulation is aimed at employees in general industry and maritime, where approximately 200,000 employees are exposed to silica in workplaces such as brick/block manufacturing, foundries, glass manufacturing, and the controversial hydraulic fracturing industry.
Key provisions of the new regulations include:
- A 50% reduction in the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift;
- The establishment of an “Action Limit” of 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift. Exposure over the action limit would trigger portions of the regulation’s requirements. Air sampling to evaluate employees’ exposures must be designed and carried out by a qualified person, such as an Industrial Hygienist or a qualified safety consultant;
- Requires employers to use recognized engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL;
- Requires employers to provide appropriate respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure and develop and implement respiratory protection programs;
- Limit’s worker access to high exposure areas;
- Requires the development of written exposure control plans;
- Requires employers to provide medical exams to highly exposed workers;
- Provide safety training to workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures. Safety training must be provided by a suitably qualified EHS professional (i.e. a qualified safety consultant);
- Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health;
- Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.
Both regulations take effect on June 23, 2016, after which industries have one to five years to comply with most requirements. Construction employers must be in full compliance by June 23, 2017, which is one year after the effective date. General Industry and Maritime employers must be in full compliance by June 23, 2018, which is two years after the effective date. Hydraulic fracturing employers must comply with most requirements by June 23, 2018, except for provisions related to engineering controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021.