New OSHA Silica Exposure Regulations Enacted – Decades After They Were Proposed

by Stephen W. Smithson

On March 24, 2016, the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) finalized new regulations (https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-04800.pdf) for workplace silica exposure.

The prior regulations were adopted in 1971 (http://ehstoday.com/osha/osha-issues-final-rule-silica), and OSHA has been considering revised regulations since the Clinton administration (http://www.wsj.com/articles/obama-administration-issues-rule-to-limit-exposure-to-silica-dust-1458828839).

Silica exposure is common throughout many industries, as it is a dust from rock and sand. It is particularly prevalent in construction, hydraulic fracking, and in industries that use sand.

The new limit would be 50 µg/m3 (microgram per cubic meter) of air, averaged over 8-hour shifts. The use of institutional controls and/or personal protective equipment (“PPE”) may be required at worksites, and other workplace exposure limits or medical monitoring also may be required.

OSHA estimates that the rule will save more than 600 lives per year, and that it will prevent an additional 900 annual cases of silicosis, an incurable lung disease.

Critics, however, worry that the rule is technically infeasible, as laboratories will struggle to measure such low concentrations of silica.

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