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OSHA Sets Focus on Silica Enforcement

Feb. 7, 2020
Agency revises National Emphasis Program to further target high-risk industries.

With OSHA's respirable crystalline silica (RCS) standards now in full effect for the general, maritime and construction industries, the agency has announced a revision to its National Emphasis Program (NEP).

The adjustments to the directive were enacted in an effort to further protect worker exposures to the naturally-occurring mineral.

Inhaling silica particles generated during cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing materials such as stone, rock, concrete, brick, block and mortar can cause negative health consequences including silicosis, an incurable lung disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Specific industry standards related to RCS, which became effective in June 2016, are outlined in general industry and maritime (29 CFR § 1910.1053) and construction (29 CFR § 1926.1153). 

Compliance dates for respirable crystalline silica were Sept. 23, 2017 for construction employers and June 23, 2018 for employers in the general and maritime industries.

The agency now has enacted a revised application to the lower permissible exposure limit (PEL) to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average in general industry, maritime, and construction.

While OSHA's regional and area outlets must follow the NEP, they are not required to create and implement their own regional or local emphasis programs. However, because of silica exposure is a national issue, state-run plans must participate, according to the agency.

OSHA area offices are now tasked with curating a randomized establishment list of employers in their respective jurisdictions for targeted inspections, based on updated target industries found in the appendix of the NEP.

Compliance safety and health officers will continue to reference current enforcement guidance for RCS inspection procedures, according to the agency.

Before initiating programmed inspections in accordance with the NEP, OSHA will offer 90 days of compliance assistance for stakeholders affected by the new measures.

About the Author

Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic was formerly managing editor of EHS Today, and is currently editorial director of Waste360.

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