In an effort to reduce the number of workers affected by respiratory diseases such as lung cancer and silicosis, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its final rule on Silica exposure.
The new rule reduces the crystalline silica permissible exposure limit (PEL) to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over an 8-hour day. Employers will be required to use engineering controls such as water or ventilation to reduce exposure rates. Employers must also provide respirators, limit worker access to high exposure areas, and develop written exposure control plans to limit exposure to the PEL. They will also need to offer medical exams to highly exposed workers and train workers on the risks of working with silica and how reduce exposure.
The compliance schedule begins on June 23, 2016 after which industries have one to five years to comply. Construction must be compliant by June 23, 2017. General industry and Maritime must be compliant by June 23, 2018. Hydraulic fracturing companies must be compliant two years after the effective date for all provisions except Engineering Controls, which have a compliance date of June 23, 2021. Compliance is expected to come at a high cost, approximately $1 billion a year. However, OSHA expects that large company will only need to invest about $1,500 more per year towards compliance.