OSHA Releases Final Silica Rules

March 24, 2016

After almost three years since OSHA proposed new respirable silica dust rules, the agency announced the final rules today, March 24, 2016.  The bottom line for construction and general industry is that the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable silica dust is now 50 μg/m3.  This is a major reduction of the PEL.  The new standard is 50% lower for general industry and 80% lower for construction.

The final rule takes effect on June 23, 2016, at which time employers will need to conduct air monitoring for any employee who may be exposed to respirable silica dust above 25 μg/m3.  However, in a change from the proposed rule, compliance with most provisions is not required until June 23, 2017, for construction and June 23, 2018, for general industry.  For fracking operations in the oil and gas industries, employers must comply with the standard by 2018, but have until June 23, 2021, to implement the engineering controls required under the rule.

The final rule imposes many new requirements on general work practices and housekeeping activities in order to reduce employee exposure.  Employers will need to develop a written exposure control plan that covers how employee exposure will be reduced and managed.  For the construction industry, this plan must be implemented by a “competent person.”  Also, the final rule requires medical surveillance exams for general industry employees exposed to the PEL more than 30 days a year, and for any construction employee who wears a respirator more than 30 days a year, starting in 2018.  There are numerous other provisions in the rule, and Axley will be conducting a series of webinars to highlight the requirements of the new silica rules.  Stay tuned for more information!