OSHA predicts that the rule will save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year, once its effects are fully realized. About 2.3 million men and women are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers who drill and cut silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing. Most employers can limit harmful dust exposure in practical ways, using equipment that is widely available – generally using water or a vacuum system to divert or capture dust at the source. Employers have the flexibility to choose equipment based on its overall performance in complying with the standards.
OSHA has issued two silica standards: one for construction and one for general industry and maritime. Both standards take effect June 23, 2016, after which industries have one to five years to come into compliance, based on the following schedule:
- Construction – One year to comply (June 23, 2017) with all requirements except the methods of sample analysis (June 23, 2018).
- General Industry and Maritime – Two years to comply (June 23, 2018) with all requirements except medical surveillance for employees exposed at or above the action level for 30 or more days a year (June 23, 2020).
- Hydraulic Fracturing – Two years to comply (June 23, 2018) with an additional three years to meet engineering control requirements (June 23, 2021).
OSHA has developed a variety of resources to help employers comply with the standard, including fact sheets, Frequently Asked Questions, and a video. Small Entity Compliance Guides (one for construction and one for general industry/maritime) are also in the works and should be available within 90 days. For more information, please see the OSHA Silica Final Rule Web page.