Employer Responsibilities Under OSHA’s New Crystalline Silica Rules

To better protect workers, OSHA issued two new respirable crystalline silica standards: one for construction and the other for general industry and maritime. OSHA began enforcing most provisions of the standard for construction on September 23, 2017 and began enforcing most provisions of the standard for general industry and maritime on June 23, 2018.

In general, when employees are exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) above the action level, all industries must:

  • Provide respiratory protection when required;
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose employees to RCS where feasible alternatives are available;
  • Establish and implement a written exposure control plan, including designating a competent person;
  • Offer medical exams to employees who will be required to wear a respirator under the standard for 30 or more days a year;
  • Communicate hazards and train employees; and
  • Keep records of medical examinations.

General and Maritime Industry—the First Step

Employers in general industry and the maritime industry must assess the eight-hour time weighted average (TWA) exposure for each employee who is or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to RCS at or above the action level of 25 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) as an eight-hour TWA.

The purposes of assessing employee exposures include:

  • Identifying where exposures are occurring;
  • Helping the employer select control methods and make sure those methods are effective;
  • Preventing employees from being exposed above the permissible exposure limit (PEL);
  • Providing employees with information about their exposure levels; and
  • Allowing the employer to give the physician and other licensed heath care provider performing medical examinations information about employee exposures.

Employers can choose between two options for assessing exposures: the performance option; or the scheduled monitoring option.

Performance Option

The performance option gives employers flexibility to determine the eight-hour TWA exposure for each employee based on any combination of air monitoring data or objective data that can accurately characterize employee exposures to RCS.

Scheduled Monitoring Option

The scheduled monitoring option lets employers know when and how often they must perform exposure monitoring to measure employee exposures. When following the scheduled monitoring option, employers must make sure that:

  • Results represent the employee’s TWA exposure to respirable crystalline silica over an eight-hour workday;
  • Samples are collected from the employee’s breathing zone; and
  • Samples are collected outside respirators to represent the exposure that would occur without the use of the respirator.

Construction Industry—the First Step

An employer in the construction industry should determine if the standard applies to its work. If its work is covered by the standard, an employer has two options for limiting employee exposure to RCS. These include specified exposure control methods; or alternative exposure control methods.

Specified Exposure Control Methods

Employers that choose the specified exposure controls option must fully and properly implement protections for the tasks or equipment listed in Table 1 of the standard. Employers that fully and properly implement the controls do not have to assess employees’ silica exposure levels or keep employee exposures at or below the permissible exposure limit (PEL).

Alternative Exposure Control Methods

Employers that choose the alternative exposure controls option must:

  • Determine the levels of respirable crystalline silica that employees are exposed to;
  • Limit employee exposures to a PEL of 50 µg/m3 as an eight-hour TWA;
  • Use engineering and work practice controls, to the extent feasible, to limit employee exposures to the PEL, and supplement the controls with respiratory protection when necessary; and
  • Keep records of employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica. WMHS

About the Author:

Ray Chishti is an Editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource company that offers products and services to address the range of responsibilities held by business professionals. Chishti specializes in workplace safety topics such as employee training, fall protection, personal protective equipment and fire protection. He is the writer and editor of J. J. Keller’s Safety Training Talks and OSHA Compliance for Transportation manuals and is a speaker at webcasts and other educational events. For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com/osha and www.jjkellerlibrary.com.