Hazardous Waste Management

The Rules Have Changed: How Are OSHA’s Two New Silica Rules Different?

OSHA’s new final rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica is actually two rules: the Agency published its maritime/general industry and construction rules concurrently. The rules are very similar, but there are some differences in their scope, compliance requirements, and compliance dates. Here’s an overview of the differences between the two rules.

Specific Requirements

In addition to the general sorts of requirements that are found in most substance-specific rules, the two silica rules include these specific coverage requirements, exemptions, and compliance options:

  • Both rules set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift.
  • Both rules exclude tasks where worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica will not reach the action level of 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average under any foreseeable conditions. Employers in maritime and general industry must have evidence to support this exception.
  • The maritime/general industry standard exempts exposures that result from the processing of sorptive clays (i.e., specific types of clay found in a few geologic deposits in the country that are used in a range of consumer products and industrial applications, such as pet litter and sealants for landfills).
  • Paragraph (c) of the construction standard includes a table with specific exposure control methods listed for specific tasks and types of equipment. This differs substantially from other OSHA substance-specific standards.  Employers that comply with these alternative exposure control methods are exempted from the standard’s other exposure monitoring, engineering, and work practice control requirements. Employers in maritime/general industry whose employees are using these same types of equipment and performing these same types of tasks may also use the exposure control methods found in the construction standard as an alternative to exposure monitoring.

Compliance Dates

As with most new standards, this one presents an array of compliance dates specific to various industries and portions of the rule. The final rule is effective on June 23, 2016, 90 days after publication.

General industry and maritime employers have 2 years from the effective date, until June 23, 2018, to comply with most requirements. The standard allows additional time for employers to:

  • Offer medical exams. Employers in maritime/general industry have 2 years from the effective date (until June 23, 2018) to offer medical surveillance for employees exposed above the PEL, but they have 4 years after the effective date (until June 23, 2020) to offer medical surveillance for employees exposed at or above the action level.
  • Install dust controls. Hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry have 5 years from the effective date (until June 23, 2021) to install dust controls to meet the new exposure limit.

Construction employers have 1 year from the effective date to comply with most requirements, (until June 23, 2017). Construction employers have an extra year to comply with certain requirements for laboratory analysis.

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