Diseases related to airborne crystalline silica affect thousands of workers every year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is now taking action to reduce this as much as possible. With a new set of regulations now going into effect, here’s what you need to know about OSHA's new silica standard:
1. OSHA is cracking down on silica dust
OSHA has recognized that the current silica rules do not provide enough protection for workers. With this latest change, the organization wants to help companies nationwide save over 600 lives and $8 billion in associated costs.
2. Newly accepted Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)
OSHA is reducing the permissible exposure limit to crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over 8 hours. This is barely more than half of the current PEL.
3. Compliance dates depend on your industry
Depending on your industry, you will have to comply with OSHA’s new silica standard by a certain date:
- Construction: September 23, 2017
- General Industry and Marine – June 23, 2018
- Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) – June 23, 2018*
* For all provisions except engineering controls
4. You need a written plan
To meet OSHA’s requirements, they request a written plan that shows what you’re doing to actively avoid silica exposure.
This should include, among other things:
- Workforce processes
- Machining alternatives
- Silica measuring
- Medical examinations
- Recording procedures
5. You must have someone in charge
You’re obligated to have a person in charge of overseeing all OSHA laws that apply to silica exposure. This individual will also be responsible for any administrative communication needs. OSHA will need a single point of contact.
6. Medical examinations are now standard for exposed workers
Chest x-ray and lung function tests are required for any worker using a respirator 30 or more days of the year. Symptoms of silicosis may not appear for years, so you may want to increase the frequency of physician exams if possible.
7. All practices must focus on reducing silica exposure wherever possible
Your machining process should actively avoid crystalline silica wherever possible. To comply with it's new silica standard, OSHA recommends using wet-cutting or vacuums and respiratory protection when operating indoors and or in enclosed spaces. Consider using a dust collection system or airborne ventilation system.
8. Your workforce needs to be trained
All staff exposed to silica need training about silicosis and what it means for the workplace. Your point-person could lead this or you can contact an OSHA representative for any on-site training. For more information, check out our guide on how to train your staff.
9. Measuring silica levels
For your record books, you will need to record the levels of silica dust over time. A professional hygienist will inspect air levels and provide an accurate reading.
10. Record keeping
This is arguably the most important step. You will need a record of nearly everything related to silica dust exposure, from the equipment you use down to when your medical exams took place. Again, your team lead will need to compile this information somewhere easily accessible and presentable to OSHA inspectors.