OSHA Begins Silica Standard Enforcement

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began enforcement of its crystalline silica standard as it applies to the construction industry on Saturday, September 23, 2017. Silica is a component of soil, sand, and granite, and it occurs in many commonly used building products such as mortar, concrete, bricks, blocks, rocks, and stones. It can be disturbed by construction activities ranging from cutting concrete and brick to moving soil around the jobsite, which can cause silicosis, lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and kidney disease.

The new rule reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for crystalline silica from 250 to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3), averaged over an eight-hour shift. It also requires the use of engineering controls, such as ventilation and wet methods for cutting and sawing crystalline silica-containing materials, to reduce workers’ exposure to silica dust. The first 30 days of enforcement will include a grace period, during which “OSHA will render compliance assistance and outreach to assure that covered employers are fully and properly complying with its requirements.” OSHA has also issued a Small Entity Compliance Guide to help with compliance.

Finalized in March 2016, OSHA provided the construction industry one year to comply, until a three-month delay was announced in April 2017. State-run OSHA programs have six months to adopt the federal rule or develop one that is equally effective. Any additional delays or changes will likely stem from multiple lawsuits that are currently pending, which assert that OSHA’s proposed PEL is technologically and economically infeasible.