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OSHA Program Addresses Crystalline Silica Hazards

In a newly issued instruction, OSHA describes policies and procedures for implementing a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to identify and reduce or eliminate health hazards associated with occupational exposure to crystalline silica.

Crystalline silica, a compound workers in the construction, maritime and general industries are routinely exposed to, is cited as the cause of silicosis, a disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease. This instruction will expand on OSHA's Special Emphasis Program for silicosis, which was established in 1996 to provide guidance for targeting worksite inspections with employees at risk of developing the disease.

According to the document, eliminating and reducing workplace exposure to crystalline silica can be accomplished by a combined effort of inspection targeting, employer outreach and compliance assistance.

Significant changes made to the 1996 Special Emphasis Program include:

  • New program evaluation procedures that will require OSHA area offices to conduct follow-up inspections where overexposures to crystalline silica are found and to provide to the National Office-Directorate of Enforcement Programs portions of case files containing citations for crystalline silica overexposure.

  • Detailed procedures for conducting silica-related inspections.

  • Updated information for selecting sites for inspection, including an updated list of North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) and Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes for industries with documented employee exposures to breathable crystalline silica.

  • Developing outreach programs by each region and area office, emphasizing the formation of voluntary partnerships to share effective methods for reducing or eliminating exposure to crystalline silica.

  • Guidance on calculating the permissible exposure limits (PELs) for dust containing respirable crystalline silica in the construction and maritime industries.

“Exposure to silica threatens nearly two million American employees annually,” said OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. “Under this program, OSHA will work diligently to maximize the protection of employees and eliminate workplace exposures to silica-related hazards.”

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