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Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
September 13, 2016
On March 23, 2016, OSHA published a new silica dust rule that the agency says will save about 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis each year. The new regulation is referred to as 29CFR1926.1153 (Construction) and 29CFR1910.1053 (General Industry).
Crystalline silica is a natural element of the earth’s crust and a major component of common sand. Airborne silica dust is most often created by cutting, crushing and drilling concrete and stone products. Exposure affects construction workers in particular, but also workers throughout U.S. industry, including the manufacture of glass, concrete products, plastics, roofing materials, paintings and coatings. Also at risk are workers at oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites, where silica is mixed with water and chemicals to keep the underground fractures open so that natural gas and oil can stream out.
According to OSHA’s fact sheet, “these tiny particles (known as ‘respirable’ particles) can penetrate deep into workers’ lungs and cause silicosis, an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease. Crystalline silica exposure also puts workers at risk for developing lung cancer, other potentially debilitating respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.”
OSHA’s crystalline silica dust rule will halve the daily permissible exposure limit (PEL). The current, somewhat complicated formula is proposed to change to a fixed limit of 50 ug/M3, with an Action Level of 25 ug/M3.
The new rule has met with some opposition from industry groups since the stricter requirements mean higher costs in implementing engineering and work practice controls, including:
- Exposure assessments and monitoring, including crystalline silica testing/sampling
- Establishment of controlled access areas
- Respiratory protection programs
- Employee training
- Medical surveillance of employees
- Recordkeeping requirements
OSHA estimates that compliance for a small business in construction will cost employers approximately $1,000 per year; for general industry, approximately $2,600 per year. On the plus side, OSHA estimates that over the next 60 years, the new rule would provide net benefits ranging from $2.8 billion to $4.7 billion annually.
Testing/sampling for crystalline silica is vital to understanding worker risk and exposure and providing for their health and safety.
As industrial hygienists, our ultimate objective is to protect employer liability by defending the health and safety of employees. When we perform a silica dust survey, we must recognize that the acceptable level of exposure is now documented in the new rule.
Atlantic Environmental is highly experienced in helping our clients put in place the most cost efficient and effective solutions to safeguard employees from the harmful effects of crystalline silica and other regulated substances. We can test/sample for crystalline silica and many other chemicals and interpret the results in terms of risk to human health. We support construction and industrial companies in their efforts to ensure regulatory compliance in all aspects of their health and safety programs.
Our primary service areas for Silica Sampling/Testing are: NJ, NY, NYC, PA, CT, DE, MA, RI, Wash DC, WI, MD, MI, IL, VA, IN, GA, AL, NC, SC, TN, TX, OK, DC, AR, we can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.