Contact Us


Keith Rickabaugh 16 min read

How to Prepare for the New MSHA Regulations on Air Monitoring for Silica


Keith Rickabaugh

The landscape of the mining industry is on the brink of a pivotal transformation. Are you prepared?

As of June 17, 2024, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will enforce a new rule that significantly lowers the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica—a change poised to align mining safety standards more closely with the stringent norms already implemented by OSHA in construction and other industries. This regulatory shift not only aims to enhance worker safety but also signals a major compliance overhaul that will require mines to adopt sophisticated air monitoring for silica techniques.

For those concerned with mining safety and regulatory compliance, the stakes are high: the new regulations will necessitate not just compliance, but a proactive overhaul of existing protocols to safeguard both their workforce and their operations. The challenge is daunting, but with it comes an opportunity—to leverage cutting-edge scientific advancements and strategic partnerships that can transform regulatory burdens into competitive advantages.

In this article, we will dissect the newfound importance of advanced silica air monitoring and outline actionable strategies to ensure that your mining operations not only meet the new requirements but excel in doing so.

The Imperative Need for Enhanced Air Monitoring for Silica

With the adoption of these new rules, the mining industry will be required to adhere to MSHA’s updated final rule, which reduces the PEL from 2.0 mg/m³ to 50 µg/m³ over an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). This change aligns its permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica with the stricter standards previously established by OSHA for construction, general industry, and maritime sectors.

Depending on the type of operation, operators have between 12 and 24 months to come into compliance with the final rule’s requirements.

With the reduced PEL, mining companies must now adopt more sophisticated and sensitive air monitoring technologies to ensure compliance. Presently, existing air monitoring systems in the mining industry may be calibrated for higher threshold levels and may not provide the sensitivity required to accurately measure the new lower limits, potentially leading to non-compliance risks.

Proactive Steps Towards Compliance

The countdown to compliance has begun. Mining companies must urgently assess their current air monitoring capabilities and identify gaps in their ability to detect lower silica concentrations. The transition to more stringent standards requires a well-orchestrated plan, focusing on upgrading equipment and training personnel.

It is imperative for operations to integrate advanced air monitoring for silica systems that boast higher sensitivity and accuracy. These technologies are crucial in capturing real-time data and ensuring that silica levels remain within the newly established thresholds. By doing so, companies can mitigate the risk of non-compliance and the associated penalties.

Accurate measurement of respirable crystalline silica is more critical than ever. However, current systems may underestimate exposure if they are not finely tuned to detect concentrations as low as 50 µg/m³.

What You Can Do To Prepare For More Stringent Silica Testing

As mining companies grapple with the transition to stricter permissible exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica, preparation becomes paramount. Given the tighter regulations and the potential for hefty penalties for non-compliance, it is crucial for operations to not only adopt but also master new testing protocols.

  • Audit Existing Monitoring Systems: Conduct a thorough audit of your current air monitoring systems for silica to evaluate their precision and ability to meet the new lower PELs. This evaluation should identify any need for recalibration or replacement, setting the stage for more detailed planning and implementation.

  • Invest in Technology Upgrades: With the need for greater sensitivity in silica detection, investing in the latest air monitoring technologies is essential. These systems should be capable of providing real-time data and detecting silica levels at or below the 50 µg/m³ threshold.

  • Enhance Staff Training and Awareness: Ensure that all personnel involved in air monitoring are fully trained on the new systems and understand the implications of the updated PEL. Training should cover operational aspects of new equipment and the importance of strict adherence to testing protocols to avoid penalties.

  • Develop a Compliance Timeline: Create a detailed compliance timeline that aligns with MSHA’s requirements. This timeline should include milestones for equipment upgrades, staff training, and full implementation of new testing protocols. Regular reviews and updates to the timeline can help keep the transition on track and responsive to any challenges that arise.

  • Establish Routine Internal Audits: Implement regular audits of your air monitoring practices to ensure ongoing compliance. These audits can help identify and rectify discrepancies in silica measurement before they become regulatory issues.

How a Scientific Consultancy Can Help

To confront these regulatory changes and ensure compliance, having a reliable partner by your side can make all the difference. A scientific consultancy can be instrumental in helping you transition your operations to meet these new standards efficiently and effectively.

For instance, RJ Lee Group supports mining companies not only by conducting on-site and off-site testing to comply with new regulations, but also by assisting in the development of in-house laboratory capabilities. This dual approach allows operators to carefully manage the costs associated with purchasing new equipment and hiring specialized staff.

Continuous air quality monitoring and regular health assessments are essential for maintaining compliance as well. RJ Lee Group’s expertise extends to setting up systematic monitoring protocols that include baseline air quality metrics and annual testing. This approach helps identify potential exposure issues proactively, ensuring compliance during this critical time.

Finally, RJ Lee Group’s EH&S experts can assist in setting up structured compliance timelines and conducting routine audits, tailored to align with MSHA standards. Our expertise in environmental health and safety allows us to provide strategic oversight, ensuring your operations are both efficient and in full compliance with evolving regulations.

Preparation for MSHA’s New Silica Standards is Essential

As the mining industry prepares for the enforcement of new MSHA regulations aimed at significantly reducing permissible exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica, understanding and preparing for these changes is crucial.

To navigate these changes effectively, consider an expert partner that can guide you through the complexities of compliance. Engaging with a scientific consultancy like RJ Lee Group can provide you with the necessary expertise and resources to adapt to these regulations. We offer comprehensive support, from conducting detailed audits of your current air monitoring systems to developing tailored compliance timelines that ensure your air monitoring for silica meets MSHA standards without compromising efficiency.

Take a proactive step towards safeguarding your operations by booking a consultation with RJ Lee Group today.

Expert Tips for Streamlining Materials Testing Processes in Product Development

Learn More

Ready to get started?

Share this blog