What you need to know about the OSHA silica rule

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Understanding the Dangers of Crystalline Silica

 

Crystalline Silica, commonly known as quartz, is a toxic substance found in soil and other minerals. According to OSHA, over two million U.S. workers are at risk of overexposure to this hazardous substance.

Occupations that include abrasive blasting of paint and rust, jack-hammering, tunneling, etc. see the worst effects of crystalline silica — which commonly manifests itself through a disease known as Silicosis.

Silicosis occurs when crystalline silica is inhaled and scar tissue forms inside the lungs. This impairs the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen and can lead to disabling or fatal complications such as tuberculosis.

 

The OSHA Silica Rule

The Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica rule greatly reduced the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of the substance to one-fifth of the previous maximum.

OSHA argues that, currently, workers are exposed to far too much crystalline silica on the worksite to be considered safe. The administration cited “a full review of scientific evidence, industry consensus standards, and extensive stakeholder input” as the basis for the final rule.  

This new rule was officially announced on March 24, 2016, and went into effect on June 23, 2017. However, OSHA initially delayed the rule, stating that, “the construction standard for crystalline silica has a number of unique features warranting development of additional guidance materials.

In order to provide the opportunity to conduct additional outreach to the regulated community and to provide additional time to train compliance officers, we have decided to delay enforcement of this standard until Sept. 23, 2017.”

 

The Controversy

Multi-industry groups fought for increased crystalline silica safety and regulation for years, and they argued that the delay unnecessarily kept workers at risk for even longer.

These groups also believe the rule does not include enough requirements regarding medical surveillance and physician’s recommendations, and they have asked OSHA to reconsider these specifics.

On the other side of the argument, industry groups have asked for the rule to be vacated completely. They argue that the evidence OSHA has cited as reasoning for the rule is not substantial enough to back up these changes.

According to several legal experts, a few changes to the rule are to be expected along with increased details on how to comply with the new standards.

 

What Should Employers Do?

The most important thing for employers to do at all times is to prioritize the health and safety of their workers.

Erin Brooks, a St. Louis based associate with law firm Bryan Cave L.L.P. said of the new rules, “employers should continue to work toward compliance, understanding that there may be additional compliance guidelines in the pipeline.”

Employers should be looking at what the exposures are on their worksites, and actively controlling these hazards to protect their workers.

With the silica standard now in place, if employers cannot comply with the PEL, then they need to implement specific dust controls for certain tasks that increase the risk of exposure. (See Table 1 of the new rule to better understand how to comply with the upcoming standard changes).

Employers can also prioritize the health of their workers with a medical surveillance program. This routine testing will screen workers for any potential health issues relating to their occupation. Screening includes testing for exposure to silica.

These programs keep workers healthy and employers alert of potential health hazards on their worksite. Stay compliant by learning more about mobile medical surveillance.

 

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