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One year ago this month, we posted our blog on OSHA’s proposed new rule on silica, with the question: Will it See the Light of Day? You can check back with that posting to review the hazards of silica and the history of the rulemaking. We noted that it has often been difficult to get new regulations issued late in an administration’s tenure. But, we postulated that there was heavy emphasis on this rulemaking effort within the current administration and this time it may be different.

Today we got our answer to that question – OSHA has announced the new Final Rule on silica, set to become effective June 23, 2016. There are actually two rules – one for General Industry and Maritime, and the second for Construction, and there are some significant differences in the two. Both Rules establish a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3 and an Action Level (AL) of 25 µg/m3 (that’s micrograms per cubic meter, not milligrams!). And it is an actual measure of crystalline silica in the sample, not the calculated value based on percentage of silica used in the previous PEL.

The General Industry version of the regulation (1910.1053) resembles what we have come to expect in OSHA’s substance-specific regulations. There are sections on monitoring, methods of compliance, respiratory protection, medical surveillance and hazard communication. If an initial determination finds the AL is exceeded, an employee exposure monitoring program is required. A written Exposure Control Plan is a requirement, as is the establishment of regulated areas wherever the PEL is exceeded. An old wrinkle, but one we haven’t seen in recent OSHA regulations, is a requirement for posting signs at entrances to regulated areas, with requirements for specific wording:

“DANGER – RESPIRABLE CRYSTALLINE SILICA – MAY CAUSE CANCER”

A statement that is sure to raise eyebrows in some quarters.
A medical surveillance program is required for all General Industry employees who are exposed at or above the AL for 30 or more days per year. An initial exam, with emphasis on the respiratory system, must be provided within thirty days of assignment to a job meeting the criteria, and follow up examinations are required every three years. Respirators are required while engineering controls are being implemented to reduce silica levels or if controls are insufficient to reduce concentrations to a level below the PEL. Hazard Communication and Information and Training requirements are what we have come to expect, and include the statement:

“The employer shall ensure that at least the following hazards are addressed: Cancer, lung effects, immune system effects, and kidney effects.”

The Construction version (1910.1153) introduces a major new wrinkle. The employer is allowed either of two approaches to demonstrate compliance. The standard employee monitoring approach is allowed. However, as an alternative, various methods of controls and respiratory protection requirements are tabulated in the regulation, by task. If the employer fully and properly implements the engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection specified for the task listed in Table 1, the employer is deemed in compliance with this element of the rule and not required to monitor and assess compliance with the PEL. For tasks not listed in Table 1, monitoring and assessment will still be required.

This difference then flows down to a subtle distinction in the medical surveillance section of the Construction Rule.

“The employer shall make medical surveillance available…  for each employee who will be required under this section to use a respirator for 30 or more days per year.”

Notice the difference? If a construction employee is required to wear a respirator under either Table 1 requirements or the general monitoring and PEL exceedance criteria (30 or more days per year), then medical surveillance is required. The requirement for regulated areas is also more flexible in the Construction Rule. The employer is required to address, in the Exposure Control Plan, where access must be restricted to minimize the number of employees that are exposed to crystalline silica. These restricted areas may be fluid and temporary, and no signage is required.

There are some curve balls in the required implementation dates as well. Construction must be in compliance by June 23, 2017. However the issue is a bit more complex in the General Industry regulation. 1910.1053 specifies that medical surveillance requirements for those employees exposed at or above the PEL must be met by June 23, 2018, and medical surveillance requirements for employees exposed at or above the AL, met by June 23, 2020. Compliance with engineering control requirements is set for June 23, 2021. All other elements of the General Industry Rule must be implemented by June 23, 2018.

Needless to say these are two very complex regulations, with some significant differences in the requirements for Construction and General Industry. If potential exposure to crystalline silica is a concern in your shop or industry, it is imperative that you grab a copy of the Final Rule, review it for application to your situation, and start working on your implementation plan. Links and additional information can be found on the OSHA website at their Silica page.

If you need help deciphering what this all means, how it applies to your specific situation, or would like assistance in crafting a compliance plan, EI’s professional staff has extensive experience in dealing with this age old contaminant and would be happy to help! Give us a call at (800) 717-3472.