On March 25, 2016, 81 Fed. Reg. 16286, OSHA issued a new final rulemaking to reduce silica dust exposure that will directly affect more than 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing. OSHA explains that silica dust exposure occurs in common workplace operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of concrete, brick, block, rock, and stone products (such as construction tasks), and operations using sand products (such as in glass manufacturing, foundries, sand blasting, and hydraulic fracturing).

Effective June 23, 2016, the new final rule will require some companies, in particular construction businesses, to take certain actions within one year to comply. OSHA explains that “[a]pproximately 676,000 workplaces will be affected, including in construction and in general industry and maritime.”

According to OSHA, key provisions of the final rule include the following:

  • Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
  • 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.
  • Requires medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.

Impacted businesses, according to OSHA’s Fact Sheet, include:

  • Construction
  • Concrete products and Ready-mix concrete
  • Cut stone and stone products
  • Asphalt products
  • Foundries and Refractory products
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Abrasive blasting