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Regulatory Update: DOL's New Initiative to Protect Workers from Silica Exposure

Regulatory Update: OSHA Launches Initiative to Protect Workers from Silica Exposure

Sept. 28, 2023
“Many workers in the engineering stone industry are experiencing illnesses so severe that they’re unable to breathe — much less work a full shift — because of their exposure to silica dust,” says OSHA.

On Sept. 25, OSHA launched a new initiative focused on enhancing enforcement and providing compliance assistance to protect workers in the engineered stone fabrication and installation industries.

“Many workers in the engineering stone industry are experiencing illnesses so severe that they’re unable to breathe — much less work a full shift — because of their exposure to silica dust,” explained Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker, in a statement.. “Among them is a 27-year-old worker in California who went to an emergency room with shortness of breath in 2022 and whose lung biopsy later revealed he had silicosis. Since then, he has been on an oxygen tank and unable to support his wife and three young children financially.”

Supplementing OSHA’s current National Emphasis Program for Respirable Crystalline Silica, this initiative will focus enforcement efforts on industry employers to make sure they’re following required safety standards and providing workers with the protections required to keep them healthy. It establishes procedures for prioritizing federal OSHA inspections to identify and ensure prompt abatement of hazards in covered industries where workers face exposure to high levels of silica dust.

OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health identify silica dust exposure as a health hazard for workers involved in manufacturing, finishing and installing natural and manufactured stone, which includes the man-made, engineered artificial or cultured types.

When inhaled, very small crystalline silica particles expose workers to the risk of silicosis, an incurable, progressively disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease. Unsafe silica dust exposure can also lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or kidney disease.

Industries subject to the prioritized programmed inspections include those engaged in Cut Stone and Stone Product Manufacturing as well as Brick, Stone and Related Construction Material Merchant Wholesalers. Outreach efforts will continue to include additional industries that may work with engineered stone.

A July 2023 study released by the American Medical Association underscores the dangers for workers in these industries. The “Silicosis Among Immigrant Engineered Stone Countertop Fabrication Workers in California” study cited 52 male patients diagnosed with silicosis caused by occupational exposure to respirable silica dust from engineered stone. Of these patients, 20 suffered progressive massive fibrosis, 11 needed lung transplants and 10 died due to their exposures.

As part of the initiative, OSHA is sending affected employers and stakeholders information on the initiative, including fact sheets on dust control methods and safer work practices for engineered stone manufacturing, finishing and installation operations.

Learn more about crystalline silica

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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