Respirable Crystalline Silica is an ultra-fine dust particle that causes silicosis, lung cancer, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) to workers if inhaled. Odds are you may know someone or a family that has been impacted by this disease, or who has been a caretaker to a person with this illness. Each year, more than 250 American workers die from silicosis. More than 1 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica. There is no cure for the disease, but it is 100 percent preventable if employers, workers and health professionals work together to reduce exposures.
Silica is the second most common mineral in the earth’s crust and is a major component of sand, rock and mineral ores per MSHA’s Guide to Working Safely with Crystalline Silica. Overexposure to dust that contains microscopic particles of crystalline silica can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs, which reduces the lungs ability to extract oxygen from the air we breathe. Typical sand found at the beach does not pose a silicosis threat.
OSHA has proposed new rules for construction and shipyard workers who are exposed to crystalline silica dust in the work environment. OSHA is now asking the public to participate in public hearings and provide feedback so that OSHA can develop rules to protect workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica dust and ensure safe working conditions for employees and employers.
“Exposure to silica can be deadly and limiting that exposure is essential. Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and kidney disease. Workers affected by silica are fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers lost to entirely preventable illnesses. We’re looking forward to public comment on the proposal.”
Dr. David Michaels Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA.gov)
Per OSHA, the new rule will save approximately 700 lives and will help in decreasing the number of silicosis exposure cases to 1600 annually once the rule is fully implemented and followed. The proposed rule is the result of extensive review of scientific evidence related to the health risks of exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica. There has been an analysis of the diverse industries where worker exposure to crystalline silica occurs, and robust outreach efforts to affected stakeholders. OSHA carefully considered current industry consensus standards on crystalline silica exposure, recommendations from small business representatives, and input from other interested parties and partner agencies in developing the proposed rule.
OSHA sees the industry consensus with high importance on the standards to protect workers from exposure to silica dust and considers the input of small businesses to develop the rule. Currently, the 40-year-old PEL (Permissible Exposure Limits) rule for crystalline silica protection rule is being followed which is outdated and inconsistent between general industry, construction, and shipyard industries.
“The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is pleased to join with Dr. Michaels and our partners in labor and industry in OSHA’s announcement of the notice of proposed rulemaking on occupational exposure to crystalline silica. NIOSH has a long history of research and recommendations on preventing worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Ensuring the health and safety of all workers is an important part of ensuring a strong economy and future economic growth.”
Dr. John Howard Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA.gov)