It is our duty as a medical resource for our clients to update and advise companies about the new standards that improve workplace safety. Many companies that we have the honor of servicing here at I&O Medical Centers dedicate their expertise and professional workforce to industries such as shipbuilding, manufacturing, and construction. With these occupations come many potential and hazardous risks. One of those risks is respiratory exposure to crystalline silica dust. OSHA has taken the utmost concern with this issue recently. To put it in perspective, around 2.3 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica dust in their workplaces (OSHA.gov). Silica exposure can cause adverse health effects and is a well known cause of silicosis – a lung fibrosis resulting from silica particles getting into the lungs causing scarring, and harming the ability to breathe. In order to control the levels of silica workers are exposed to, OSHA is making major changes to their guidelines regarding the hazard of inhalation, which are set to take effect beginning mid-2017.
- 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.
- Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
Both standards contained in the final rule take effect on June 23, 2016., after which industries have 1-5 years to comply with most requirements, based on the following schedule:
Construction – June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date.
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.
Key Provisions & Compliance Schedule (OSHA.gov)