On September 16, 2016, the period for public comment on Oregon OSHA’s proposed rules for respirable crystalline silica closes, and Oregon OSHA is expected to adopt the proposed rules by September 25, 2016. The proposed rules will keep Oregon OSHA in harmony with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) adoption of more stringent silica standards earlier this year.

Crystalline silica is an abundant, natural mineral commonly found in sand, stone, and soil, as well as construction materials such as concrete, brick, and mortar. Exposure to silica dust can cause disabling, even fatal, lung diseases including silicosis, and occurs by inhaling dust particles from cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing these materials, which can be found in a wide variety of workplaces. OSHA estimates that over 2.3 million workers in the United States—nearly 90 percent of whom are employed in construction—are potentially exposed to silica dust.

For these reasons, Oregon OSHA is following in the footsteps of federal OSHA to implement stricter standards that, if adopted, will:

(1) reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to airborne crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (mg/m3);

(2) institute an action level at 25 mg/m3;

(3) require engineering controls and work practices that limit employee exposure to the new PEL;

(4) require a written exposure control plan;

(5) require exposure assessments and reassessment if any work conditions change; and

(6) require provisions for respiratory protection, medical surveillance, employee training, and recordkeeping.

Only one key difference distinguishes Oregon OSHA’s rulemaking from its federal counterpart: unlike the federal rules which adopted separate silica standards by industry, Oregon OSHA’s proposed rules combine the new requirements into one general standard, codified at OAR 437-002-1053 through 437-002-1065. Therefore, the impact on Oregon employers, regardless of industry, will be the same.

The proposed silica rules, if implemented, will take effect on June 23, 2017, for construction employers, and on June 23, 2018, for all other employers. While the public hearings have concluded, you can still fax or email written comments on the proposed rules to Oregon OSHA before the comment period closes on Friday, September 16, 2016.