OSHA recently announced a proposed rule to protect workers exposed to crystalline silica. You may have already heard about this-it was even mentioned in the New York Times recently. But we figured we’d run through all the information you need to know right here in this one post.
First, Does the Convergence Training Blog Have Any Free Silica-Related Training Materials?
Yeah, here’s an employee silica exposure checklist for you–in four different formats, no less.
Is This a Rule or Just a Proposed Rule?
It’s just a proposed rule. That means it’s a suggestion that OSHA has put forth. There’s a lengthy process to complete before this becomes a rule, if it ever does. And that includes periods for public comments and public hearings.
Where Can I Submit a Written Comment?
Submit your written comments on OSHA’s Proposed Silica Rule.
How Else Can I Participate During the Rulemaking Process?
Is this for General Industry & Maritime, Construction, or Both?
So What Is Respirable Crystalline Silica?
Very small particles of silica that can enter the lungs and cause damage and death. The particles are at least 100 times smaller than a grain of sand.
Where Does Respirable Crystalline Silica Come From and How Is It Created?
It’s created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, mortar, quartz, and industrial sand.
So What’s So Bad About Respirable Crystalline Silica?
It puts people who work around it at risk of:
- silicosis (an untreatable, chronic, and potentially fatal lung disease)
- lung cancer
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- kidney disease
For more detailed information, check out OSHA’s Health Effects & Risk Assessment document.
What Would the Proposed Rules Require?
According to OSHA:
“Workers’ exposures would be limited to a new PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (μg/m3), averaged over an 8-hour day. The new PEL would be the same in all industries covered by the rule.
The proposed rule also includes provisions for measuring how much silica workers are exposed to, limiting workers’ access to areas where silica exposures are high, using effective methods for reducing exposures, providing medical exams to workers with high silica exposures, and training for workers about silica-related hazards and how to limit exposure. These provisions are similar to industry consensus standards that many responsible employers have been using for years, and the technology to better protect workers is already widely available.”
What Are Some Simple Things That Can Be Done to Lower Exposure and Risk on the Job?
Always keep in mind the “Hierarchy of Controls” when working with a potential hazard. That means trying elimination first, then engineering controls, then administrative controls, and then the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Here’s more on the Hierarchy of Controls for Respirable Silica from OSHA:
“Engineering controls include such things as replacing silica with a material that does not contain crystalline silica (substitution); using local exhaust ventilation; using containment methods, such as blast-cleaning machines and cabinets; and wet sawing or wet drilling of silica-containing materials. Administrative actions may include limiting workers’ exposure time and requiring workers to shower and change into clean clothes before leaving a worksite. Use of personal protective equipment may include wearing proper respiratory protection to keep workers’ exposure below the OSHA permissible exposure limit and the use of personal protective clothing.”
A few simple things to do to lower exposure to respirable crystalline silica on the job include:
- Avoid cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, mortar, quartz, and industrial sand when it’s not necessary.
- Wearing respirators that keep the silica out of your lungs.
- Wetting these materials before sawing, grinding, drilling, crushing, etc.
- Using a vacuum to collect dust at the point where it’s created.
- Enclosing an operation that creates silica dust.
Check this OSHA webpage for more about crystalline silica dust control measures.
What Other Resources Can I Check Out?
- OSHA Silica Overview Fact Sheet
- OSHA Silica Fact Sheet for Construction
- OSHA Silica Fact Sheet for General Industry & Maritime
- OSHA’s Safety and Health Topic Web Page on Crystalline Silica
- OSHA’s Training Materials on Crystalline Silica
- OSHA Pocket Card for Health Information on Silicosis (General Industry)
- OSHA Pocket Card for Health Information on Silicosis (Construction)
- OSHA Silica e-Tool
- OSHA Checklist for Employee Silica Exposure Monitoring
- NIOSH’s Silica Information Web Page
- MSHA’s Silicosis Prevention Web Page
- US Department of Interior, US Bureau of Mines, Branch of Industrial Minerals’ “Crystalline Silica Primer”
- Hazard Alert: Silica in Abrasive Blasting and Rock Drilling
- The Center for Construction Research and Training’s “Working Safety with Silica”
- OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Exposure Card for Construction
- OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Exposure in the Construction Industry
- NIOSH’s “Control of Hazardous Dust During Tuckpointing”
- NIOSH’s “Preventing Silicosis and Deaths in Construction Workers”
- NIOSH’s “Preventing Silicosis and Deaths from Sandblasting”
- NIOSH’s “Silicosis in Sandblasters” (Case Study for Use in U.S. High Schools)
- NIOSH’s “Preventing Silicosis and Deaths in Rock Drillers”
- OSHA’s “Deadly Dust” Video
- The U.S. Department of Labor’s 1938 “Stop Silicosis” Video
- The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics “Don’t Let Silica Dust You” Video
- OSHA Silica Fact Sheet for Small Businesses
- OSHA’s “Silica Blog/Post”
- OSHA/NIOSH Hazard Alert Regarding Silica Exposure During Hydraulic Fracturing (“Fracking”)
Are There Other Technical/Scientific Resources about Silica?
- American Thoracic Society Statement on Adverse Effects of Crystalline Silica Exposure
- American Lung Association Web Page on Silicosis
- National Toxicology Program Report on Respirable Crystalline Silica
- International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph on Crystalline Silica
- American Cancer Society Findings on Workplace-Related Cancer
image credit bbanauch