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OSHA proposes heightened standards for Crystalline Silica exposure – Opportunity to comment ends January 27

Posted: January 20, 2014

In an attempt to strengthen its Crystalline Silica exposure rule, on September 12, 2013, OSHA proposed significant changes that could result in higher compliance costs and may require additional risk management strategies for affected industries. 78 Fed. Reg. 56274. The more stringent proposed rule will affect the construction and manufacturing industries, as well as operations using industrial sand products, such as hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas industry. OSHA is encouraging interested parties to provide input into the rulemaking, but those wanting to submit comments for OSHA’s consideration must do so by January 27, 2014.

Crystalline silica is commonly encountered in the construction industry through the work operations involving concrete, brick, block and similar materials. It is also common in foundry sand and other manufacturing activities, including production of glass, ceramics, plastics, roofing materials, paintings and coatings, and concrete products. In the oil and gas industry, crystalline silica is present in the sand widely used as a proppant in hydraulic fracturing operations. In these and other industries, the use of industrial sand, or the cutting, grinding, drilling, crushing or use of silica-containing materials may cause silica dust to become airborne. Inhalation of significant amounts of airborne silica dust can be dangerous.

OSHA’s proposed rule may impose greater compliance obligations on employers. Most significantly, the rule proposes:

  • A substantial reduction in the permissible eight-hour exposure limit (PEL). In most industries, this would be a 50 percent reduction, from 100 µg (micrograms)/m3 to 50 µg/m3. In construction, OSHA is proposing to lower the limit by 80 percent, from 250 µg/m3 to 50 µg/m3.
  • Mandatory engineering and work practice controls which include exposure assessments and monitoring, controlled access areas, and respiratory protection programs. Employers would not be permitted to rotate employees to avoid exposure limits, nor could they rely solely on inexpensive solutions, such as respirators.
  • Required recordkeeping of air monitoring, medical surveillance, training, hazard communication and other data. For air monitoring, silica samples will be required to be analyzed by laboratories that meet specified OSHA accreditation criteria.

Industries affected by the proposed rule have the opportunity to raise questions, present additional information for OSHA consideration, and voice objections though the comment and public hearing process, which ends on January 27, 2014.