OSHA has released its final rule occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. This silica standard will protect more than 2 million workers who are at risk for exposure to respirable crystalline silica in the workplace, but it will also come at a cost to employers. Here’s an overview of the new rule, and how it could impact your workplace.
Scope of the Final Rule
The rule covers all possible situations where occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica is possible.
The rule actually consists of two separate standards for the construction industry and general/maritime industries because exposure conditions vary so greatly between these industries. The two silica standards are similar in scope, but have slightly different requirements for employers in each industry.
There is one major exception to the rule. Employers in the general/maritime or construction industries are exempt from most requirements of the standard if they can demonstrate that occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica will remain below the action level of 25 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (25 µg/m3) over an 8-hour TWA under any foreseeable conditions (including failure of engineering controls).
New Requirements of OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule
OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) released its final rule for Crystalline Silica Exposure on March 25, 2016. The key requirements of the final rule are:
New Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)
Employers in affected industries are required to comply with the new PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (50 µg/m3) over an eight-hour period TWA (time-weighted average). Employee exposure must not exceed the new PEL at any point.
New Action Level
The rule instates an action level of 25 µg/m3. In short, employers must either demonstrate that employees will not be exposure to respirable crystalline silica at or above this level in “any foreseeable circumstances”.
Exposure Testing Requirements
If respirable silica levels could reach this action level, employers must conduct exposure assessments to measure employee exposure.
Methods of Compliance
Employers are also required to meet additional requirements if silica exposure could reach the 25 µg/m3 action level. These requirements might include:
- Silica exposure assessments,
- A written exposure control plan,
- Respiratory protection,
- Medical surveillance,
- Hazard communication,
- Record keeping of silica exposure results and medical exams,
- Housekeeping measures,
- And additional compliance methods.
Opportunity for Exemption from Some Requirements
The construction standard outlines a compliance option that exempts employers from many standard requirements. Employers who choose this option must use a specific set of control measures outlined in the silica standard for various construction activities.
The new Rule was installed to limit occupational exposure to to crystalline silica, and reduce related, preventable health issues, like silicosis. The Rule also provides greater protection for workers in the construction and shipyard industries, which previously had PELs two times larger than general industry.
Why did the rule need to be updated?
The previous PEL was extremely outdated; it was based on out-of-date exposure testing from the 1960s. Since then, silica has been classified as a known human carcinogen by important regulatory agencies like the World Health Organization, National Institute of Health and the American Cancer Society.
OSHA reviewed more than 50 epidemiological studies and found strong scientific evidence that exposure to respirable silica at previous PEL levels created significant risk for serious health effects due to respirable silica exposure.
Once implemented, the rule is expected to prevent 600 silicosis-related deaths per year and prevent up to 900 new cases of silicosis annually.
Who is affected by the Final Silica Rule?
Overall, the final silica rule will affect approximately 676,000 workplaces in the United States. This includes 2.3 million workers who are currently at risk for occupational exposure to silica.
The new Rule covers all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica, except for agricultural exposure (which is covered under OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1928). The main industries affected include:
- Shipyards (maritime)
- Asphalt manufacturing (roofing & road materials)
- Concrete and ready-mix concrete products
- Glass and pottery manufacturing
- Jewelry manufacturing
- Foundries and metal-working
- Stone products, structural clay, paintings and coatings
- Oil and gas operations
- Railroad transportation
What will the silica rule cost to implement?
In writing the standards, OSHA determined the projected cost of compliance for businesses in all affected industries, as well as expected cost savings before finalizing the silica standard.
Overall, the rule is expected to cost $1 billion annually to implement. The expected average net benefits ranging between $3.8 and $7.7 billion annually.
Cost for employers to comply
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA must create a standard that significantly reduces risk, but is also easy for businesses to comply with, both technologically and economically. OSHA decided on a new PEL of 50 μg/m3 because this is the lowest level employers can be expected to feasibly comply with.
OSHA’s analysis projects the rule will have a minor economic impact on businesses with expected annual costs of:
$1,523 for the “average workplace”.
$550 for businesses with fewer than 20 employees.
Employers should consult a Health & Safety expert to determine appropriate steps for their unique situation to comply with this silica standard.