In 2015, OSHA indicated that the Final Rule for the Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica would be published in February 2016. The silica rule will likely be enforceable within 90 to 180 days after it becomes final. Employers are encouraged to start planning now for the possible changes that could occur–especially for the exposure monitoring, engineering and administrative controls, and medical surveillance components. Potentially affected business sectors include those in the construction industry especially. Looking ahead, here are some aspects that are expected for the new Rule:
Exposure Monitoring and Assessment – Employers must provide periodic exposure monitoring of employees who are or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica at or above the Action Level of 25µg/m³ if the initial monitoring indicates that employee exposures are at or above the Action Level and if the initial monitoring indicates that employee exposures are above the PEL (permissible exposure limit).
Regulated Areas or Access Control Plan – Establish and implement either a regulated area(s) or an access control plan whenever an employee’s exposure to respirable crystalline silica is, or can reasonably be expected to be, in excess of the PEL.
Engineering and Administrative Controls – Establish and implement controls such as local exhaust ventilation and wet cutting whenever feasible, for reducing exposures to crystalline silica before implementing respiratory protection.
Protective Work Clothing and Respiratory Protection – Provide appropriate protective clothing such as coveralls or similar full-bodied clothing or a means to remove excessive silica dust from contaminated clothing if there is a potential for employee work clothing to become grossly contaminated with crystalline silica. Provide respiratory protection when employees may be exposed to silica about the PEL or during periods when the employee is in a regulated area. Note that before employing respiratory protection PPE, you must first assess the feasibility of engineering and administrativecontrols first and use these preferred means to protect employee health. If and only if after those control methods prove to be either partially or completely ineffective can the employer institute a PPE program.
Medical Surveillance – Employers must provide medical surveillance at no cost for each employee who will be occupationally exposed to respirable crystalline silica above the PEL for 30 or more days per year. Medical surveillance includes a medical examination within 30 days after initial assignment and periodic medical examinations at least every three years or more.
Hazard Communication and Training – Communicate and train employees on respirable crystalline silica hazards under the Hazard Communication Standard, 29 C.F.R. § 1910.1200, and ensure that each employee has access to labels on containers of crystalline silica and safety data sheets.