Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released the final rule on Worker’s exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. The concrete production industry has expressed serious concern about the reasonableness of the rule and the industry's ability to meet the requirements.

The National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) is still analyzing the 1,772-page ruling, of which 606 pages relate to the concrete producer industry. NRMCA has voiced concern that OSHA has ignored many of the objections the ready-mix and construction industries raised to the requirements in the draft proposal that was released more than two years ago. The NRMCA and the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy stated that data demonstrates that the previous OSHA PEL (permissible exposure limit) was sufficiently effective in reducing the number of deaths from silicosis. Industry commenters also argued that the number of recorded silicosis-related deaths in recent years, as reflected in the medical surveillance data, is far lower than the number of lives that OSHA projected would be saved by a more stringent rule, indicating that OSHA’s risk assessment is flawed.

OSHA believes that the reductions in deaths attributable to silicosis are real, and not a statistical artifact. However, OSHA disagrees with commenters’ argument that this trend shows the lack of a need for this new rule.

It should be noted that the rule has two standards: one that applies to the construction industry and another that applies to general industry and maritime. Ready-mix plants, block plants, precast, and quarrying all fall under the general industry provisions which won’t be enforced until June 2018.

The current requirement for general industry is 100 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter of air) per 8 hours, and under the new rule it will drop to to 50 µg/m3. The rule also contains an action level of 25 µg/m3, which would trigger employee medical surveillance.

What does it mean for producers?

OSHA has determined that the final rule’s PEL is feasible for the vast majority of general industry sectors, with the exception of three. For only three general industry job categories related to producers, OSHA has concluded that exposures to silica will likely exceed the final rule’s PEL even when all feasible controls are fully implemented; therefore, supplemental respiratory protection will be needed in addition to those controls to ensure that employees are not exposed in excess of the PEL for those three categories. Specifically, supplemental use of respiratory protection may be necessary for abrasive blasting operations in the concrete products industry sector, cleaning cement trucks in the ready mix concrete industry sector, and during abrasive blasting operations in shipyards.

Other key provisions include:

  • Employers are required 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.
  • Employers should provide medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and give them information about their lung health.
  • It provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.

The estimated annual cost of compliance for the general industry and maritime is estimated to be $371 million, of which $115 million will be absorbed by ready-mix concrete, concrete block and brick, concrete pipe, and other concrete manufacturing.

While the NRMCA and other associations continue to analyze the rule, it is important to study the new rule and come up with a plan of action.

Compliance Schedule

Both standards in the final rule take effect on June 23, 2016, after which industries have one to five years to comply with most requirements, based on the following schedule:

General Industry and Maritime - June 23, 2018, two years after the effective date.

  • Employers are required to comply with all obligations of the standard, with the exception of the action level trigger for medical surveillance, by June 23, 2018.
  • Employers are required to offer medical examinations to employees exposed above the PEL for 30 or more days a year beginning on June 23, 2018.
  • Employers are required to offer medical examinations to employees exposed at or above the action level for 30 or more days a year beginning on June 23, 2020.

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