About 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
Health effects from silica exposure includes:
Silicosis, a disabling, non-reversible and sometimes fatal lung disease;
Other non-malignant respiratory diseases, such as chronic bronchitis;
Kidney disease, including nephritis and end-stage renal disease.
To a lesser extent, there is also a cause for concern that silica exposures may be associated with auto-immune disorders and cardiovascular disease.
Responsible employers have been protecting workers from harmful exposure to respirable crystalline silica for years, using widely-available equipment that controls dust with water or a vacuum system and ensuring workers are wearing the proper respiratory protection.
According the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Department of Labor first highlighted the hazards of respirable crystalline silica in the 1930s, after a wave of worker deaths. The department set standards to limit worker exposure in 1971, when OSHA was created. However, the standards are outdated and do not adequately protect workers from silica-related diseases. Furthermore, workers are being exposed to silica in new industries such as stone or artificial stone counter top fabrication and hydraulic fracturing.
A full review of scientific evidence, industry consensus standards, and extensive stakeholder input provide the basis for the final rule, which was proposed in September 2013. The rule-making process allowed OSHA to solicit input in various forms for nearly a full year. The agency held 14 days of public hearings, during which more than 200 stakeholders presented testimony, and accepted over 2,000 comments, amounting to about 34,000 pages of material. In response to this extensive public engagement, OSHA made substantial changes, including enhanced employer flexibility in choosing how to reduce levels of respirable crystalline silica, while maintaining or improving worker protection.
OSHA has issued a final rule to curb lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in America's workers by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The rule is comprised of two standards, one for Construction and one for General Industry and Maritime.
OSHA estimates that the rule will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year, once its effects are fully realized. The Final Rule is projected to provide net benefits of about $7.7 billion, annually.
OSHA has shared the following Key Provisions:
Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micro grams per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.
Provides flexibility to help employers "�� especially small businesses "�� protect workers from silica exposure.
Both standards contained in the final rule took effect on June 23, 2016, and industries have one to five years to comply, based on the following schedule:
Construction - Initially scheduled for June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date. This has now been pushed back to September 23, 2017.
General Industry and Maritime - June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date.
Hydraulic Fracturing - June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date for all provisions except Engineering Controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021.