OSHA put out a Request for Information (RFI) to ask for additional information regarding the respirable crystalline silica standard. OSHA revised the silica standard March 25, 2016, and launched an industry compliance effort on September 23, 2017, with full enforcement of the October 23, 2017 standard.
The 2016 OSHA rule lowered the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) of air as an 8-hour Time Weighted Average (TWA) in general industries. OSHA considers that level to be technically achievable for affected industries. In construction, OSHA put an Action Level (AL) of 25 µg/m3 over 8-hour TWA, among other requirements. The original OSHA standard established in 1971 had a PEL of 250 µg/m3 in the construction industry and 100 µg/m3 in general industry.
Related article: OSHA Publishes Silica Standard FAQ
The OSHA standard for the construction industry is strict, and the criteria are listed in Appendix I: OSHA Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction. Inside the appendix is a table of engineering controls, work practices, and respiratory protection specified for everyday construction job tasks that possibly release respirable crystalline silica. Employers that comply with the methods defined in “Table 1– Specified Exposure Control Methods When Working with Materials Containing Crystalline Silica ” are exempt from the PEL or demands for monitoring of employee worker direct exposures. However, employers should be willing to protect workers.
OSHA Seeking Additional Information
OSHA has issued the RFI to solicit comments from industry on Table 1. OSHA described its plan in the Fall 2018 schedule of governing and deregulatory actions. Regarding the Fall of 2018 agenda, OSHA said it had an interest in 3 details:
- The efficiency of control determines not consisted of for tools and jobs listed in Table 1;
- Tasks and even devices including exposure to respirable crystalline silica that is not noted in Table 1; and
- The performance of dirt control methods in limiting employee exposures to respirable crystalline silica when executing those procedures.
In evaluating the responses to the RFI, OSHA will determine if alterations to Table 1 are ideal and needed.
Lower PEL Full of Controversy
Regarding the OSHA 2016 rule, the development of lower PEL was subject to controversy, debatable and probably would be challenged in federal court.
Nevertheless, December 22, 2017, the three-judge panel of the UNITED STATES Court of Appeals in Washington DC upheld the OSHA rulemaking with one exception, finishing a challenge by North America’s Building Trades Union and US Chamber of Commerce. An agreement was made that OSHA’s medical removal requirements were arbitrary and instructed the agency to reconsider them.
What Should Employers Be Aware Of?
Employers that comply with the PEL are not subject to exposure assessment. Construction industry employers should focus their efforts on the exposure control methods. The exposure control methods are defined in Table 1 of the OSHA standard, however, methods not included in the standard should be avoided. If an employer is not properly implementing the control methods OSHA will issue citations.
According to Bloomberg Environmental, a Virginia construction company was issued five citations for respirable crystalline silica violations totaling $304,130. In other words, the fines could be the most substantial fines ever under the new silica standard.
For a full copy of the General Industry FAQ, please see this link -> https://www.osha.gov/dsg/topics/silicacrystalline/generalindustry_info_silica.html
If you are an employer with respirable crystalline silica standard potential issues, you may want to monitor the RFI and provide comments and data to OSHA regarding the standard. Refer to the RFI here ->https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/eAgendaViewRule?pubId=201804&RIN=1218-AD18