OSHA recently announced they will delay enforcement of the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction until September 23, 2017, to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.

The three-month enforcement delay of the federal silica dust rule can be viewed as an opportunity to fine-tune the compliance guidelines, or a minor speed bump toward excessive government regulation. The delay will give contractors more time to plan for compliance, and OSHA more time to make sure their rule is realistic. Contractors are still unsure if OSHA's 50 micrograms per cubic meter exposure limit is practical or just an arbitrary number.

It's no secret that silica dust exposure can pose severe health problems for workers. Enforcement of the silica standard is OSHA's way of protecting construction workers. They believe the rule will save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis each year. Click on the infographic below for more information.

What the Rule States

The rule applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica in construction work, except where employee exposure will remain below 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an 8-hours’ time-weighted average (TWA) under any foreseeable conditions.

OSHA’s first rule of compliance is Table 1, which must be followed exactly as stated or else Table 1 cannot be used. Here are some alternative exposure control methods if the employer can’t fully comply with Table 1:

  • Permissible exposure limit (PEL)--measure and make sure no workers have exposure over the 50 micrograms per cubic meter TWA.
  • Exposure assessment--assess the potential exposure of each employee and take action if needed.
  • Methods of compliance--use engineering and work practice controls to reduce and maintain employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica below the PEL.

Employers will need to train employees on health hazards, specific tasks that could increase risks, engineering controls, and the purpose and description of the medical surveillance program. Tool manufacturers will help contractors comply with OSHA by developing new tools that will help to meet the Table 1 provisions.

For more information, click on the links below.