OSHA Proposes Rule to Protect Workers from Crystalline Silica
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a proposed rule in late August that would lower worker exposure to crystalline silica. Exposure to crystalline silica is usually through airborne silica dust from operations such as cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of concrete, brick, block and other stone products and in operations using sand products, such as in glass manufacturing, foundries, and sandblasting.
This type of exposure can lead to lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease. OSHA stated that they expect “that the proposed rule would result in saving nearly 700 lives per year and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually”.
“Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis-an incurable and progressive disease as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and kidney disease. We’re looking forward to public comment on the proposal”.
The proposed rule is separated into two industry categories, one being general industry and maritime employment and the other is construction. These two industry categories will have two different sets of standards. Currently, permissible exposure limits (PELs) are in place for these industries, however, they were set 40 years ago and are outdated and do not provide adequate protection for worker health.
“The proposed rule uses common sense measures that will protect workers’ lives and lungs-like keeping the material wet so dust doesn’t become airborne,” says Michaels. “It is designed to give employers flexibility in selecting ways to meet the standard”.
According to the OSHA news release, “the proposed rule includes a new exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica and details widely used methods for controlling worker exposure, conducting medical surveillance, training workers about silica-related hazards and recordkeeping measures”.