Obama-era silica regulation finally in effect

 Oct. 25, 2017 - After two delays, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has finally put into full effect new construction standards on silica exposure that were first issued last year by the Obama administration.

As of Monday, Oct. 23, the rule establishes a new permissible exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an average eight-hour period. The new limit is half the amount that had been allowed under the previous 2008 California standard. The new standard is in effect under Cal/OSHA as well as the federal job safety agency.

Under the new standards, employers who have not fully and properly enacted engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protections, and who fail to conduct assessments to make sure the exposures are below the allowable limits, will be subject to enforcement actions.

The new standard also requires employers to monitor silica exposures at an “action level” of 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour average.  

The new rules were devised last year after a lengthy OSHA review process that included 14 days of public hearings, involvement of more than 200 stakeholders including labor and industry and more than 2,000 comments. Workers had sought a stronger silica standard for decades.

They had been scheduled to take effect June 23, but President Donald Trump’s Department of Labor held them off for three months due to complaints filed by the Associated Builders & Contractors and other recalcitrant employer groups.

Then, in September, the Labor Department delayed them again for another month while the agency offered what it called “compliance assistance in lieu of enforcement” for employers who were making “good faith” efforts to meet the new standards.

Under the new standards, employers are required to use engineering controls such as water and ventilation to limit workers’ on-the-job exposure to deadly silica dust. Employers must provide respiratory protection if engineering controls can’t bring the exposure levels into compliance. They also are required to create a written plan, provide training and medical exams to highly-exposed workers.

The rules also are designed to ease compliance for construction employers by informing them of the controls that are available to reduce exposures without having to monitor them.

Statistics put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell the story of silica danger on the job.

Every year, about 143 people die of silicosis and other diseases from such exposures. Some 2 million construction workers have been exposed to silica at 600,000 job sites across the country, according to OSHA.

Exposures are most frequent when sandblasting, demolition jackhammering, dry concrete finishing or grinding, overhead drilling of anchors, tunneling, and working with masonry saws. Heavy equipment operators working in demolition operations also are at risk. Workers in all construction crafts, however, have the potential to be exposed to silica on the job.

OSHA has produced a “Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Respirable Crystalline Standard for Construction” that is helpful for understanding all the components of the new rule. It is available online at:


Visit our SBCTC Safety HUB website at http://safety.sbctc.org/  to view our SBCTC Silica Training material.

You can read the memo put out last week by OSHA on the new standard here: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=31349



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