The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently launched a new National Emphasis Program to reduce worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Workers who inhale silica dust can develop serious lung diseases, which may be fatal or require lung transplants. The dust is generated when materials such as stone, rock, concrete, brick, and mortar are cut, drilled, ground, or crushed. OSHA will begin with 90 days of education and compliance assistance to give employers an opportunity to understand the rules for protecting workers. The agency will then begin to target specified high-risk industries for inspections. Those industries are listed in the appendix for the National Emphasis Program. They cover numerous activities, including the manufacturing of materials and items such as asphalt shingles, paint, ceramics, glass containers, ready-mix concrete, bricks, cut stone, iron, steel, aluminum, boats, and dental equipment. A few examples of construction activities that can generate silica dust include drilling or jackhammering concrete or masonry, cutting fiber-cement board, and milling asphalt using portable machines (OSHA National Emphasis Program on Respirable Crystalline Silica, Feb. 4, 2020).
Tips for employers: Determine whether your workers are engaged in any activities that could expose them to respirable crystalline silica. OSHA enforces separate rules for general industry/maritime and construction. In states that have their own OSHA-approved safety and health agencies such as California, Oregon, and Washington, OSHA will require the states to participate in the National Emphasis Program. Familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to your industry and review the appendix to the National Emphasis Program to see whether your business is subject to OSHA’s targeted inspections. Additional online resources and guidance are available to help you reduce exposure to respirable crystalline silica on the websites of federal OSHA, Cal/OSHA, Oregon OSHA, and Washington Department of Occupational Safety and Health. Not sure where to start? Contact your Vigilant safety professional for assistance.