Game Changing Regulation for Respirable Crystalline Silica? New Industries and New Challenges

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  • 9:23AM Sep 16, 2013
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OSHA has proposed new standards for respirable crystalline silica exposure and a new uniform airborne permissible exposure limit (PEL), calculated as an eight-hour time-weighted average. The agency has identified 25 industry subsectors encompassing approximately 130 industrial and maritime operations in which exposure to respirable crystalline silica is common during operations such as cutting and grinding or using industrial sand products.

The basis for this change are OSHA claims that the current PELs for silica, adopted in 1977, are outdated and don’t reflect today’s scientific evidence. They also state that the new proposed standard for maritime and general industry of 50 µg/m3 will be easier to understand and will increase compliance. The proposed regulation will affect many industries that were not formerly subject to enforcement for monitoring of exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Employers in these newly designated industries, that OSHA has identified as being potentially affected by the proposed silica standard, may find themselves required to implement procedures with technical challenges that they have not encountered before.

New requirements for sampling for exposure are also included with the proposed regulation. Industries already experienced in sampling, environmental monitoring firms, and analytical laboratories will all find it necessary to amend their sampling and analysis procedures. The proposed rule creates a new action level of 25 µg/m3. When airborne levels are above the action level but below the PEL, monitoring is required every six months. If airborne levels are above the PEL, monitoring must be done every three months until results indicate exposures are below the action level and this can be confirmed by two consecutive measurements taken at least seven days apart.

And while one of OSHA’s criteria was to ensure that the proposed limits are feasible from a technology standpoint, every laboratory will have to evaluate its methods and procedures to confirm its ability to detect lower levels if the proposed limits become law. OSHA suggests that the various industries use an accredited laboratory for all silica analyses, and specifies some parameters of this accreditation.

Since this is a proposed regulation, OSHA will follow a process to obtain input and will accept public comments for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register. Afterwards, they will hold public hearings to allow comments. However, responsible parties will need to be prepared for the new law to go into effect. Our silica experts are currently reviewing the proposed regulation in detail and will be giving you their insight on some of the issues and factors that should be considered. Future posts will provide guidance on silica sampling and analysis.

Update 3/24/2017: In April 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) passed new regulations for RCS. The regulations include a reduction in the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3 ) and an action level of 25 µg/m3. Employers in the construction industry are required to comply with the new standards by June 23, 2017 and general industry by June 23, 2018.