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OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Standard

History:
The health risks associated with exposure to dust containing crystalline silica are well-known today, but it is important to note this wasn’t always the case. In 1700, Dr. Bernardino Ramazzini found evidence of silicosis in stone cutters. Approximately 200 years later, Dr. Alice Hamilton, a physician whose work resulted in significant safety and health reforms, documented silica-related illnesses being common in granite workers. In the early 1900s, granite cutters in Vermont acknowledged there was a connection between the dust they were inhaling and resulting fatal illnesses.
A slow up-hill battle ensued, and employees struggled to attain proper ventilation and equipment. The real breakthrough came in the 1930s, when federal government responded in 1938. U.S. Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins held a National Silicosis Conference and initiated a campaign to “Stop Silicosis,” asserting that: “Our job is one of applying techniques and principles to every known silica dust hazard in American industry. We know the methods of control—let us put them in practice.”

Why Standard is Important:
Silicosis deaths have declined in recent years, but it does not detract from the severity of the problem. From 2005-2014, silicosis was listed as an underlying or a contributing cause of death on over 1,100 death certificates in the U.S., and most deaths from silicosis go undiagnosed and unreported. In addition, those numbers of silicosis deaths do not include additional deaths from other silica-related diseases, such as COPD, lung cancer and kidney disease. It is import to always be obtaining current data and updating procedures, as the industry continues to learn more about avoiding inhalation of silica.

This year, the final rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica went into effect. OSHA estimates that this new rule will save over 600 lives annually, preventing more than 900 new cases of silicosis, and it will also provide net benefits of about $7.7 billion per year.

“More than 80 years ago, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins identified silica dust as a deadly hazard and called on employers to fully protect workers,” quoted U.S.  Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “This rule will save lives. It will enable workers to earn a living without sacrificing their health. It builds upon decades of research and a lengthy stakeholder engagement process—including the consideration of thousands of public comments—to finally give workers the kind of protection they deserve and that Frances Perkins had hoped for them.” (U.S. Department of Labor)

Key Compliance Requirements:
The standard for general industry and maritime (29 CFR 1910.1053) requires employers to:

  • Assess employee exposures to silica if it may be at or above an action level of 25 µg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), averaged over an 8-hour day;
  • Protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposures above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3, averaged over an 8-hour day;
  • Limit workers’ access to areas where they could be exposed above the PEL;
  • Use dust controls to protect workers from silica exposures above the PEL;
  • Provide respirators to workers when dust controls cannot limit exposures to the PEL;
  • Use housekeeping methods that do not create airborne dust, if feasible; M Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers;
  • Offer medical exams—including chest X-rays and lung function tests—every three years for workers exposed at or above the action level for 30 or more days per year;
  • Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure; and
  • Keep records of exposure measurements, objective data and medical exams.

Compliance Assistance:
OSHA’s Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for General Industry and Maritime is a good resource for information on how to implement changes in the work environment and educate employees on the new procedures. https://bit.ly/2zqQgHt

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