OSHA SilicaOn March 23, 2016, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published its final rule for Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS). The rule created two standards, one for general industry and maritime (29 CFR § 1910.1053) and one for construction (29 CFR § 1926.1153), to limit the overexposure of workers to silica in affected jobsites.

Silica consists of small mineral particles that are generated by cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing materials such as stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. Inhaling the dust created during these operations can cause silicosis, an incurable lung disease, as well as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. OSHA estimates that approximately 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica every year.

Earlier this year, OSHA published its revised National Emphasis Program (NEP) for RCS. The purpose of the NEP is to focus agency resources into educational outreach programs and enforcement activities to ensure compliance with the 2016 RCS rule. 

OSHA released a previous NEP for silica in 2008, one which attempted to ensure at least 2 percent of total inspections each year addressed silica issues in relevant industries. The agency cancelled this NEP in 2017 following the publication of the 2016 RCS rule. OSHA determined that under the new silica standard the old NEP was no longer applicable, and a new program would need to be developed in the future.

The current NEP work instruction established the following requirements:

  1. Participation in the NEP is mandatory for local and regional OSHA offices.
  2. Local officials will be required to implement site inspection schedules, administrative procedures, and any additional local enforcement requirements within six months of this announcement.
  3. Inspections must focus on priority industries listed in annex A and B of the NEP.  The lists contain industry sectors that have the highest number of workers with elevated exposure risks.
  4. Additionally, 90 days prior to any planned inspections, local offices must initiate an outreach program to educate and help affected local industry comply with the new rule. These outreach programs may include local employers, trade associations, OEMs, Unions, and health care professionals.

Any questions or concerns related to the National Emphasis Program announcement can be directed to AEM Director of Global Standards and Compliance Jason Malcore at jmalcore@aem.org

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