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New OSHA rule limits respirable crystalline silica exposure

Construction workers in New York often face a much higher risk of illnesses because of workplace exposure to inhalable carcinogens. Now, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration is addressing the danger by enforcing standards which took effect in 2016, when the new rule passed. The purpose is to lower the amount of silica that employees may be exposed to. 

The rule has several provisions, the effects of which are expected to lower the numbers of silicosis cases by 900 per year, as well as saving 600 lives annually. One of these involves allowing some flexibility in implementation for those who may have a hard time coming into compliance, such as small companies. Another provision states that during an 8-hour shift, workers cannot be exposed to more than an average of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air. In addition, employers must do the following:

  • Create a written plan for controlling exposure
  • Limit exposure through restricted access and the use of engineering controls wherever possible
  • Provide training about lung health and the risks of silica, and educate employees on ways to limit their own exposure

When exposure is still too high, workers must receive respirators. Employees who work in high exposure areas should also receive medical exams to monitor their health.

According to EHS Today, the new rule makes it mandatory for companies to assess the air quality. Safety experts suggest that employers who have tested a work area in the past may want to re-test the air quality if any significant factors such as the process or volume of production have changed since the previous air monitoring assessments.

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