New OSHA Regulations Set to Curb Lung Disease

The Silica Rule

Enforcement of new OSHA regulations designed to limit the exposure of construction workers to silica dust took effect on September 23, 2017.

The new regulations have several key provisions. According to OSHA, employers are now required to:

  • Limit worker exposure to silica using “engineering controls” (such as water or ventilation)
  • Provide respirators to limit exposure
  • Limit worker access to high exposure areas
  • Develop written exposure control plans
  • Offer medical exams to highly exposed workers
  • Train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposure

Although these regulations officially went into effect on September 23, OSHA has instituted a 30-day grace period during which they will not be issuing fines or citations as long as companies are working towards meeting the new requirements.

Around 2.3 million workers inhale silica in the workplace, 2 million of those being construction workers. Silica gets in the air whenever materials such as concrete or stone are drilled, cut crushed or ground. Silica dust can impair breathing, cause lung scarring, and increase your risk of lung cancer, according to the CDC.

OSHA estimates that once they are in full effect these new rules will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year.

The AGC (Associated General Contractors of America) opposed the Silica Rule, saying that it is not “technologically and economically feasible” and that OSHA did not consider the impact on small businesses.

The first standards designed to limit silica exposure were introduced in 1971. OSHA says that those standards are outdated and do not adequately protect workers from silica-related diseases. They say that the new regulations are based on a full review of scientific evidence, industry consensus and extensive stakeholder input.

The new regulations will affect every contractor that drills, cuts or demos concrete. One of the best ways to limit silica exposure is “wet cutting”, which is just spraying water directly on to the point where the material is being cut or broken apart. Increases in costs will mainly come from the fact that contractors now have to purchase new equipment to limit silica exposure, and train their employees on the dangers of silica.

For a full overview of the new rule, visit https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3683.pdf