New Silica Rule Pending White House Approval

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This Is A Complex, Massive Set Of New Mandates For Employers That Have Silica In The Workplace. 

By Henry Chajet

The Department of Labor (DOL), Occupational Safety‎ and Health Administration (OSHA) sent its final new silica regulation to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review, seeking approval to adopt the rule by publishing it in the Federal Register. Normally, the review process would be completed in March, but there are indications that this review will be extended through May or longer. ‎In addition, MSHA has indicated they will follow OSHA’s lead with a rulemaking of their own for mining and quarrying.

This is not any ordinary, simple regulation, but a complex, massive ‎set of new mandates for employers that have silica in the workplace – perhaps covering 2 million people. As many readers know, silica is one of the most common materials on earth, contained in beach sand, and thousands of industrial and consumer products and building materials.

Silica dust has been a known cause of lung disease for hundreds of years, afflicting the builders of the ancient pyramids and the U.S. industrialization. The good news is that silica dust disease mortality is one of our greatest public health victories, and has almost disappeared in the U.S. The disease was conquered by our modern dust exposure limits and protective practices (e.g. water sprays, dust suppressants and dust masks).

But the public health success story of vanishing silica employment mortality (and no ambient air silica related disease) has not stopped DOL/OSHA from proposing to over-regulate by mandating reduced exposure limits and even lower action levels that would trigger an estimated billion dollars in costs for, among other things:

  • Air sampling and analysis.
  • Engineering controls.
  • Restricted work areas with warning signs.
  • Respirator programs and use.
  • No-silica lunch rooms.
  • Protective and cleaned clothing.
  • No take home dust.
  • Additional training.
  • Recordkeeping.

If OMB approves the new regulation, only a court challenge could stop its implementation and enforcement. But there may still be time to register your concerns.

If you think this rule is unnecessary and burdensome, consider telling OMB and your Congressmen and Senators that a small business administration review panel told OSHA not to adopt the rule, as did multiple scientific experts from leading universities, who opposed the rule as not feasible and not needed. OMB can be reached at [email protected] and refer to Docket ##RIN 1218-AB70.

What is crystalline silica?

Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals. Quartz is the most common form of crystalline silica. Cristobalite and tridymite are two other forms of crystalline silica. All three forms may become respirable size particles when workers chip, cut, drill or grind objects that contain crystalline silica.

What are the hazards of crystalline silica?

Silica exposure remains a serious threat to nearly two million U.S. workers, including more than 100,000 workers in high risk jobs such as abrasive blasting, foundry work, stonecutting, rock drilling, quarry work and tunneling. The seriousness of the health hazards associated with silica exposure is demonstrated by the fatalities and disabling illnesses that continue to occur in sandblasters and rockdrillers.

Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal. The respirable silica dust enters the lungs and causes the formation of scar tissue, thus reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. There is no cure for silicosis. Since silicosis affects lung function, it makes one more susceptible to lung infections like tuberculosis. In addition, smoking causes lung damage and adds to the damage caused by breathing silica dust.

What are the symptoms of silicosis?

Silicosis is classified into three types: chronic /classic, accelerated, and acute. Chronic/classic silicosis, the most common, occurs after 15-20 years of moderate to low exposures to respirable crystalline silica. Symptoms associated with chronic silicosis may or may not be obvious; therefore, workers need to have a chest x-ray to determine if there is lung damage. As the disease progresses, the worker may experience shortness of breath upon exercising and have clinical signs of poor oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange. In the later stages, the worker may experience fatigue, extreme shortness of breath, chest pain or respiratory failure.

Accelerated silicosis can occur after 5-10 years of high exposures to respirable crystalline silica. Symptoms include severe shortness of breath, weakness, and weight loss. The onset of symptoms takes longer than in acute silicosis.

Acute silicosis occurs after a few months or as long as two years following exposures to extremely high concentrations of respirable crystalline silica. Symptoms of acute silicosis include severe disabling shortness of breath, weakness and weight loss, which often leads to death.

What can employers/employees do to protect against exposures to crystalline silica?
  • Replace crystalline silica materials with safer substitutes, whenever possible.
  • Provide engineering or administrative controls, where feasible, such as local exhaust ventilation and blasting cabinets. Where necessary to reduce exposures below the PEL, use protective equipment or other protective measures.
  • Use all available work practices to control dust exposures, such as water sprays.
  • Wear only a N95 NIOSH certified respirator, if respirator protection is required. Do not alter the respirator. Do not wear a tight-fitting respirator with a beard or mustache that prevents a good seal between the respirator and the face.
  • Wear only a Type CE abrasive-blast supplied-air respirator for abrasive blasting.
  • Wear disposable or washable work clothes and shower if facilities are available. Vacuum the dust from your clothes or change into clean clothing before leaving the work site.
  • Participate in training, exposure monitoring, and health screening and surveillance programs to monitor any adverse health effects caused by crystalline silica exposures.
  • Be aware of the operations and job tasks creating crystalline silica exposures in your workplace environment and know how to protect yourself.
  • Be aware of the health hazards related to exposures to crystalline silica. Smoking adds to the lung damage caused by silica exposures.
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke or apply cosmetics in areas where crystalline silica dust is present. Wash your hands and face outside of dusty areas before performing any of these activities.
  • Remember: If it’s silica, it’s not just dust

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