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OSHA SEEKS TOUGHER STANDARD ON RCS RISK

US regulator new respirable crystalline silica standard for construction

The federal regulator for health and safety in the USA (OSHA) has released a ‘proposed rule’ to protect workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica. Inhalation of very small (respirable) crystalline silica particles poses risk of silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.

Dr. David Michaels Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year, once the full effects of the rule are realized.

Lower exposure limits and greater preventive actions proposed

OSHA currently enforces 40-year-old permissible exposure limits (PELs) for crystalline silica in general industry, construction and shipyards and is now proposing a standard for construction including provisions for employers to:

  • Measure the amount of silica that workers are exposed to if it may be at or above an action level of 25 μg/m (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), averaged over an 8-hour day;
  • Protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposures above the PEL of 50 μg/m, averaged over an 8-hour day;
  • Limit workers’ access to areas where they could be exposed above the PEL;
  • Use dust controls to protect workers from silica exposures above the PEL;
  • Provide respirators to workers when dust controls cannot limit exposures to the PEL;
  • Offer medical exams —including chest X-rays and lung function tests—every three years for workers exposed above the PEL for 30 or more days per year; 
  • Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure; and
  • Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams

The proposed OSHA standard matches the increasing focus by HSE’s construction division on RCS assessment and control in the UK construction industry.

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