A Helpful Guide to OSHA’s New Silica Standard

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ST. PAUL, Minn. –  If your crew works with silica, you’ve probably heard about OSHA’s updated construction regulation that goes into effect starting mid-2017. However, you may not be clear on the details and what it means for your team.

If you’re a little confused or simply haven’t had time to dig into the flurry of technical documents on the topic, don’t worry. The occupational health and safety team at 3M has a helpful guide to give an overview of some of the key points for what you need to know.

Concrete CuttingWhat: OSHA 29 CFR 1926.1153 – Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction and OSHA 29 CFR 1910 General Industry regulations. Click HERE for the full standard.

While there are several updates (and the complete standard should be reviewed), we can highlight two developments in the OSHA update that apply to all U.S. construction applications.

  • The permissible exposure limit (PEL) has been lowered from 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air (ug/m3) Time Weighted Average (TWA) to 50 ug/m3 TWA. That’s one-fifth of what it used to be.
  • There are stricter requirements relating to protection for workers exposed to silica — e.g., engineering controls, respiratory protection, a written plan, proper training, ongoing medical surveillance and a competent person to oversee the process.

Who: Employers of silica-exposed workers

Millions of American workers are exposed to silica each year. OSHA estimates:

  • About 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush or grind or work with silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone are exposed to respirable silica.

Employers of these workers must evaluate and potentially upgrade their current safety processes and personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers to ensure lower exposure limits are met.

When: Compliance schedule varies by industry

Construction: Effective September 23, 2017. Employers must fully comply within one year.

Maritime and general industries: Effective June 23, 2018. Employers must fully comply within two years.

Hydraulic fracturing: Effective June 23, 2018. Employers must comply within two years for all provisions except engineering controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021.

Why: It helps saves lives and can ultimately reduce costs

At the center of this regulation change is worker health. OSHA notes that workers exposed to silica can develop silicosis as well as other health problems. OSHA also estimates the new regulation will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis every year.

While upgrading processes and PPE may take time and money, it has numerous benefits for employers. OSHA projects net benefits of about $7.7 billion annually — so these proactive measures can really add up from a long-term perspective.

What’s next: Prepare for change

You want to be there for important life milestones now and in the future, and you want every member of your crew to do the same. OSHA is implementing the new regulation to better help keep workers healthy and safe. Now is the time to prepare.

To get started, check out the 3M OSHA Silica Rule Change Tool Kit. It has several pieces that can help you on the journey to comply with this important new regulation.