Everything You Need to Know About OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Rule
Respirable crystalline silica is silica that has been broken down from either grinding, sanding, cutting, or drilling. Crystalline silica is found in concrete, brick, stone, soil, and sand. When materials like these are crushed into small particles, they become airborne and are then known as respirable crystalline silica. Close to 2.3 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica at work. That is nearly 2.3 million people who if not properly trained may be susceptible to lung or kidney disease, liver issues, or cancer.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), was designed to maintain a standard of safe working conditions for workers through education and training. This organization is a part of the United States Department of Labor. The regulator of OSHA has direct communication with the Secretary of Labor who has ties to the President of the United States.
New Rule In Effect
It was announced on March 24th of 2016 that OSHA would be making an amendment to the rules for respirable crystalline silica. This new rule would apply for both the general industry and maritime as well as construction. This change would become effective on June 23rd of 2016 for both industries. It was found that the old rules and exposure limits were causing too many health concerns, leaving workers with respiratory diseases and lung cancer.
The new crystalline silica rule added precautionary measures such as breathing protection, risk communication, physical assessments, and data tracking in order to better protect workers. OSHA also established a new limitation on exposure to 50 μg/m3 per 8 hours.
As of June 23rd, 2016, employers are required to have a written crystalline silica control plan to help limit employee exposure. Areas, where there is likely to be high concentrations of silica now, have restricted access. Cleaning tools such as air compressors and dry brooms have to be limited or used in combination with a ventilator to minimize the spreading of particles.
After 30 or more days of being exposed to 25 μg/m3 of crystalline silica for 8 hours, it is required that there be medical surveillance available for those working in the general industry. As for construction, after 30 days or more per year of respirator use, medical surveillance is to be made available for these workers. This can include but is not limited to, chest X-rays, and lung function tests.
Proper training is obligatory to ensure the employees are aware of the threats that working with crystalline silica could pose to their health. On top of providing safety training, employers are now required to ensure regular recordkeeping of employees’ exposure levels, medical exams, and training records. It is now easier than ever to take respirable crystalline silica awareness training as it can all be done online. Once employees have completed their crystalline silica awareness certificate course, they will receive a certificate that will give employers proof of completion to keep on file.
Although crystalline silica can be very harmful to the health of those working with and around it, there are many things we can do to minimize that threat:
- Understand what materials contain silica
- Keep updated on the rules, regulations, and exposure limits for crystalline silica
- Take precautionary measures to minimize exposure
- Wear protective clothing
- Limit the use of cleaning supplies that will spread dust
- Use a respirator
- Seek medical attention for prolonged exposure
- Data tracking and recordkeeping
- Crystalline silica training and safety awareness courses
For complete information on OSHA’s Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica, visit the National Archives. To check out a brief Fact Sheet visit: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA3681.pdf