As we discussed in previous posts (found here, here and here), after surviving legal challenges and a 9-month delay, OSHA’s new standard limiting respirable silica exposure goes into effect for all industries on June 23, 2018. As a reminder, the new standard reduces the permissible exposure limit (“PEL”) for respirable crystalline silica from 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air for general industry and 250 micrograms for the construction industry — which has been the standard for more than 40 years — to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air for all industries.
Limiting silica exposure is only part of the new regulations; there are a number of preventative and monitoring measures required as well. The new silica rule requires that employers, including those in the fracturing industry, conduct an initial exposure assessment of each employee who is or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica. This baseline assessment will dictate ongoing exposure assessment options as well as the employer’s obligation related to regulated areas, engineering and work practice controls, written exposure control plans, respiratory protection, housekeeping, medical surveillance, hazard communication and recordkeeping.
In December 2017, when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected industry challenges to OSHA’s new silica standard, it found that most firms in the hydraulic fracturing business were not in compliance with the new standard. Coming into compliance will take time to implement and will involve employee training — it cannot be done overnight.
Under the new regulations, most employers will also be required to implement engineering controls and work practices as the primary methods of limiting exposures below the new limit. Hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry have fortunately been given until June 23, 2021, to develop engineering or work controls. But all other requirements of the standard will be in effect for the industry by the end of this month.