What we know: OSHA silica standard

Crystalline silica, found in most of the world’s sand, may put those exposed to the particle at increased risk for lung diseases, according to OSHA. Because of this risk, OSHA has reduced the minimum standard for permissible exposure limits (PELs) of crystalline silica in general industry, as well as the maritime and construction industries. It’s the first time since 1971 that OSHA has changed this standard.

The updated rule:

  • Cuts PELs in half. The new limit is 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day. Respirable is typically defined as 10µm or less.
  • Limits employee access to high silica levels.
  • Calls for better housekeeping and ventilation methods to reduce exposure.
  • Requires employee training on silica hazards and how to limit them.

Employers must measure and monitor the amount of silica when their levels reach 25 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day. This is called the action level. To put these standards into perspective, if a typical restaurant sugar packet were filled with respirable crystalline silica, it would be too much dust for a facility the size of a football field with 13-foot ceilings.

How to reduce silica dust exposure

If your facility and employees are at risk of crystalline silica dust exposure, there are several steps you will need to take to reduce this risk, including:

  • Possibly changing housekeeping methods
  • Monitoring
  • Implementing engineering controls
  • Identifying regulated areas

Housekeeping to reduce silica exposure

Employers may have to change their housekeeping methods to reduce the risk of exposure to crystalline silica:

  • Dry sweeping, compressed air cleaning and dry brushing are prohibited, unless other methods are not feasible.
  • Compressed air must be accompanied by a ventilation system, if feasible.
  • Vacuuming using a HEPA filter and wet sweeping are advised.

Monitor your work spaces for silica dust exposure

You will be required to monitor each job task in each area for each work shift. How often you will be required to monitor depends upon your facility’s PEL level.

  • If you are above the PEL standard, you will need to take a reading every three months.
  • If you are above the action level, but below the PEL, you will need to take a reading every six months.
  • If two consecutive readings fall below the action level, you can end scheduled monitoring.
  • If you make any changes to the area that may increase crystalline silica exposure, you will need to begin monitoring the area.

Complying with the OSHA silica standard

According to OSHA, you must implement either engineering controls or work practice controls or both to reduce silica exposure to levels below the PEL. Even if you are unable to reduce exposure to standard levels, OSHA will require they be implemented if the controls are found to reduce employee exposure to crystalline silica.

Identifying regulated areas

Areas in your facility where employees may be exposed to levels of crystalline silica above the standard must be marked with signage. Employees and anyone installing engineering controls also will be required to wear respirators in these areas. If respirators are required, you will need to put a respirator program in place and conduct medical tests on employees who are exposed to levels above the action level more than 30 days per year.

How IVI can help

If your facility does not meet the new standard, you may need a new or expanded dust collection system. IVI can help with one of our Ecollector Baghouse Dust Collectors or a dust collection system designed specifically for your facility may be the solution.  IVI can offer a facility engineering study to identify your current duct collection system performance and provide recommendations for improvement to meet the new PELs.

The new OSHA rule goes into effect June 23, 2016. All requirements of the rule must be in place by June 23, 2018. Contact us today to see how we can help you comply with this new OSHA silica standard.

 

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