As occupational health professionals know, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, often referred to as OSHA, exists to set a standard for working conditions that protects workplace safety and health. Through training, outreach, education, and assistance, OSHA provides tools and information that employers can use to protect their employees.

Over the past year OSHA has begun to implement two brand new respirable crystalline silica standards. Enforcement for construction began on September 23rd, 2017 and enforcement for general industry and maritime will begin on June 23rd, 2018.

What is Crystalline Silica?

For those who are unfamiliar, crystalline silica is a mineral found in the earth’s crust and is used to make a variety of products, from glass to pottery and stone.

Respirable crystalline silica is created when stone, brick, concrete and similar materials are cut, ground, sanded, drilled or manipulated in any way that creates dust. Around 2.3 million U.S. workers are exposed to silica at work.

Why is Respirable Crystalline Silica dangerous?

Inhaling crystalline silica particles can increase your risk for Silicosis, an incurable lung disease; lung cancer; COPD; and kidney disease.

What is OSHA’s New Silica Standard?

According to a recent OSHA update, the new standard establishes, “...a new PEL of 50 µg/m3 for all covered industries. It also required other employee protections, such as performing exposure assessments, using exposure control methods, using respiratory protection, offering medical surveillance, developing hazard communication information, and keeping silica-related records.”

The update also includes flow charts for evaluating specified exposure and alternative exposure control methods and provisions for how to handle respiratory protection, creating an exposure control plan, housekeeping practices, medical surveillance, and more.

The construction standard in particular includes some unique requirements and additional guidelines. For a full understanding of the new standard and how they may affect your industry, please reference the OSHA update here.