OSHA Begins Full Enforcement of Silica Rule

OSHA is reminding everyone in the construction industry that it is fully enforcing the new silica rule as of October 23.

Along with the reminder came a link to a memorandum for OSHA regional administrators with detailed guidance for enforcement of the rule. According to these instructions, the eight-hour time-weighted average permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 50 µg/m3, and the action level (AL) is 25 µg/m3.

Although the administration has been enforcing the Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction standard since September 23, compliance assistance was made available to employers making a good-faith effort to comply. Now, after the expiration of the 30-day interim period, this assistance will no longer be offered.

This new rule has several provisions the employers in the construction industry must follow to remain in compliance:

  1. Employers must develop a specific exposure control plan that includes designating an inspector to identify existing and foreseeable hazards.
  2. Employers are obligated to assess all employees who may be exposed to respirable crystalline silica using one of two options that set time-weighted exposure levels.
  3. Employers must use work-practice and engineering controls to reduce employee exposure to crystalline silica at or below the PEL. If controls are not sufficient, protection must be supplemented with respirators.
  4. If respiratory protection equipment is used, the employer must ensure it is being used properly, which includes a full respiratory protection program.
  5. Dry sweeping and dry brushing that contributes to silica exposure are prohibited. Instead, employers must use sweeping compounds, wet sweeping, a HEPA-filtered vacuum, compressed air in conjunction with ventilation or another method that minimizes exposure.
  6. Employers must establish a hazard communication program that includes respirable crystalline silica.

The above list is meant only as general information. Please read the full silica rule or refer to the OSHA webpage for silica. Also, it is important to remember that this is a federal standard. If you have a state OSHA or other regulating agency, the limits may be lower or stricter compliance measures may have to be taken.

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