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OSHA’s Revised National Emphasis Program for Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica

In February of this year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revised a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to identify and reduce or eliminate worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The purpose of this NEP is to ensure compliance with the 2016 silica standards by way of educational outreach programs and enforcement requirements. In this brief article, a Texas OSHA lawyer explains what revisions were made to the NEP and how you can prevent worker exposure to silica on your jobsite. 

Related: Does Your Construction Site Have a Safety or Health Hazard Present?

Overview of Respirable Crystalline Silica

Respirable crystalline silica consists of very small silica particles generated by the sawing, grinding, drilling, cutting, or crushing of materials, such as concrete, rock, brick, mortar, stone, and block. Industrial sand, such as that found in fracking, is also a source of silica. Workers who inhale airborne silica particles are at increased risk for a number of health concerns, including lung cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and silicosis. It is estimated that approximately 2.3 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to respirable silica each year. 

OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction

To better understand the changes to the NEP, it’s important to review OSHA’s guidelines for respirable crystalline silica exposure in the construction industry under 29 CFR § 1926.1153. The standard for the construction industry covers the steps employers are required to take in order to limit workplace exposure to crystalline silica and protect workers from the hazards associated with exposure. The standard is flexible in terms of which dust control methods are used; however all constructions employers are required to: 

  • Establish and implement a written exposure plan
  • Offer medical exams for workers required to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year
  • Keep records of medical exams and exposure measurements
  • Train workers on operations that may result in silica exposure and methods for limiting exposure
  • Provide respiratory protection, when necessary

Related: Why Construction Firms Need an OSHA Defense Lawyer for their Job Site

Changes to the NEP

The revisions to the NEP are designed to target the industries expected to have the highest number of workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica and aid in compliance with the new silica standards. As such, the application revised the lower permissible exposure limit to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average. This includes general industry, maritime, and construction. 

In addition to compliance from all OSHA regional and area offices, local officials will conduct targeted inspections of sites within six months of the announcement. Ninety days prior to planned inspections, local offices are to initiate outreach programs to educate and aid local industries. For more information on how to limit occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica or comply with the revisions to the NEP, contact one of our Texas OSHA defense lawyers today. 

If you would like to speak with a Texas OSHA lawyer, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.