What is Crystalline Silica?
Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring mineral commonly found in sand, rock, concrete, glass, marble, brick, mortar, porcelain, ceramic, artificial rock, and many other products. Crystalline silica exists in three main forms: quartz (most common), crystobalite, and tridymite. Inhalation of crystalline silica in the respirable size range (particle diameter of less than 10 microns) can cause a variety of adverse health effects. The most common health condition associated with respirable crystalline silica exposure is silicosis and incurable, sometimes fatal, lung disease. Silicosis results in scarring of the lung tissue and decreased lung function. Silica exposure may also increase the risk of lung cancer and kidney disease.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has made several recommendations to minimize worker exposure to crystalline silica. In order to limit exposure to silica and prevent silicosis, employers and workers should:
- Plan ahead to control dust at a jobsite.
- Eliminate the use of abrasive blasting materials that contain more than one percent crystalline silica.
- Use dust control methods such as blast cabinets, approved vacuum systems, and wet methods.
- Maintain dust control systems to make sure they are functioning properly.
- Wear disposable or washable protective clothing.
- If possible, shower and change clothes before leaving the jobsite.
- Conduct regular air monitoring to ensure that control systems are working.
- Use respirators approved for protection against crystalline silica-containing dust when levels cannot be kept below the PEL. Follow the OSHA respiratory protection program requirements.
- Post warning signs around areas contaminated with silica dust.
- Provide workers with training materials about health effects of silica exposure and the protective equipment that is available to prevent exposure.
- Provide medical exams for all workers who may be exposed to respirable crystalline silica.
- Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where silica dust is present.
- Report all cases of silicosis to OSHA.
- Follow the applicable OSHA silica standard(s) as discussed below
New OSHA Crystalline Silica Standards
On March 25, 2016, OSHA issued a new final rule on exposure to respirable crystalline silica which includes two separate standards: one for the construction industry and one for general industry and maritime operations. The final rule became effective on June 23, 2016. Employers will have up to one year in construction and up to two years in general industry/maritime to come into full compliance with the new standard, in accordance with a schedule listed in the final rule.
OSHA estimates that about 2.3 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica. Exposures to silica dust occur in construction operations such as cutting, sawing, drilling, grinding, mixing, and crushing of concrete, brick, block, rock, and stone products. Silica exposures also occur in a variety of manufacturing processes that use or produce rock, cement, marble, stone, block, and sand products. These include foundries, sandblasting operations, hydraulic fracturing, and the manufacture of tile, marble products, brick, or concrete products, porcelain, pottery, and glass.
The new rule reduces the limit for silica dust exposure in the workplace. The respirable crystalline silica PEL for both the construction and general industry/maritime standards has been set at 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) of air. An action level (AL) has been set at 25 µg/m3. The standard requires employers to implement certain engineering, work practice, and/or personal protective equipment (PPE) controls to reduce silica exposures. The required controls are dependent on the level of exposure and employee work activity.
Additional information on the silica standard including the entire final rule, summary sheets, questions and answers, and the implementation schedule can be found on OSHA’s website. The WCF Safety and Health Department is also available to provide assistance in understanding the new OSHA crystalline silica requirements to help protect your employees. For further assistance, please contact the WCF Insurance Safety and Health department at (385) 351-8103 or online.
NOTICE: This guide may make reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations; however the guide is not legal advice as to compliance with OSHA or other safety laws, codes, or regulations. Compliance with OSHA and other safety laws codes or regulations, and maintaining a safe work environment for your employees remains your responsibility. WCF Insurance does not undertake to perform the duty of any person to provide for the health or safety of your employees. WCF Insurance does not warrant that your workplace is safe or healthful, or that it complies with any laws, regulations, codes, or standards.