Last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a proposed new rule regarding occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Due to bureaucracy and government red tape, OSHA has struggled of late to issue new rules, thus lengthy delays with this announcement occurred. The proposal  includes a setting a new permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air calculated as an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA).

In addition, the proposed rule describes widely used methods for controlling workers’ exposure to crystalline silica, including conducting routine medical surveillance and educating workers about silica-related hazards.The proposed rule also seeks to establish two separate standards; one for general industry and maritime employment, and the other for the construction industry.  Following publication of the proposal, the public has 90 days to comment on the rule, and this is followed by additional public hearings. OSHA believes that, once in effect, the rule would result in saving nearly 700 lives per year and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually.

Exposure to airborne silica dust occurs in many construction related operations that involve such actions as cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick, block and other stone products. Additionally, significant exposure can occur in other types of operations using sand products, such as in glass manufacturing, foundries and sand blasting.

OSHA currently enforces 40-year-old permissible exposure limits (PELs) for crystalline silica in general industry, construction and shipyards that are often interpreted and applied incorrectly.  The updated PEL is simple and straightforward and hopefully will be in force sooner rather than later.