OSHA Unveils Controversial Final Silica Rule and Industry Gears Up For Challenges

By Kate M. McMahon and Eric J. Conn

OSHA has issued its long-sought – and heavily disputed – new regulation aimed at reducing worker exposures to crystalline silica dust, cutting the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) in half for general industry, construction and maritime activities.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officials on March 21, 2016 cleared the rule, essentially green lighting  OSHA to move forward. With this regulation long represented as a top priority for OSHA, Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels took no time doing so, issuing the final rule only days after Silica Rule Image 2the White House gatekeeper OMB cleared it back to OSHA. Dr. Michaels said in the press release accompanying the rule that the existing limits on Silica dust are “outdated,” and added that limiting exposure to silica dust is essential.

“Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. Today, we are taking action to bring worker protections into the 21st century in ways that are feasible and economical for employers to implement.”

The soon-to-be-published final rule – effective 90 days from its imminent publication in the Federal Register – cuts the exposure limit on respirable crystalline silica in half for general industry, construction and maritime,Silica Rule Image making the new PEL 50 micrograms per cubic meter (50 µg/m³) of air, on a time-weighted average of exposure across the work day. The PEL, which is the core provision of the rule, was controversial enough considering the little return Industry sees from the reduction, as compared to the economic and technical difficulties involved. However, the new regulation also includes an “action level,” set at 25 µg/m³, which automatically triggers numerous ancillary requirements ranging from exposure controls to medical surveillance. OSHA justifies this action level because many workplace health experts believe that Continue reading