DOL Revises Program to Reduce or Eliminate Worker Exposure to Silica

March 2020

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established a revised National Emphasis Program to identify and reduce or eliminate worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in general industry, maritime and construction. The NEP targets specific industries expected to have the highest numbers of workers exposed to silica, and focuses on enforcement of the new silica standards, one for general industry and maritime (29 CFR § 1910.1053) and one for construction (29 CFR § 1926.1153). These standards became effective in June 2016, and construction employers were required to begin complying with their standard as of Sept. 23, 2017, and general industry and maritime employers were required to begin complying with their standard as of June 23, 2018.
    
What changes were made to the NEP?

  • Revised application to the lower permissible exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average in general industry, maritime and construction.
  • Updated list of target industries, as listed in the appendix of the NEP; from this list, area offices will develop randomized establishment lists of employers in their local jurisdictions for targeted inspections.
  • Compliance safety and health officers will refer to current enforcement guidance for RCS inspection procedures.
  • All OSHA regional and area offices must comply with this NEP, but they are not required to develop and implement corresponding regional or local emphasis programs.
  • State Plans must participate because of the nationwide exposures to silica.

    
OSHA will conduct 90 days of compliance assistance for stakeholders prior to beginning programmed inspections for the NEP.
    
Respirable crystalline silica consists of small silica 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, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.