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March 24, 2016
OSHA’s silica rule announced
By Ana Ellington, Legal Editor

The U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez today announced a final rule to improve protections for workers exposed to respirable silica dust. The rule is expected to save more than 600 lives annually and to prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis.

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The secretary called the rule a partnership between labor and management. At the announcement ceremony, Perez was joined by a number of union and other labor representatives, as well as Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, John Howard, MD, and Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) David Michaels, PhD.

“More than 80 years ago, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins identified silica dust as a deadly hazard and called on employers to fully protect workers,” said Perez. “This rule will save lives. It will enable workers to earn a living without sacrificing their health.”

According to the secretary, this substantially reduces worker exposure with “common sense practical approaches.” Michaels noted that industry played a role in showing them that preventive measures are doable and economical. Furthermore, the rule provides employers with “remarkable flexibility” to comply with a 2-year implementation window.

The rule is written as two standards: one for construction and one for general industry and maritime. The construction industry has until July 23, 2017, to comply. General industry and maritime have until June 23, 2018.

According to the final rule, it will improve worker protection by:

  • Reducing the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift;
  • Requiring employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) and work practices to limit worker exposure; provide respiratory protection when controls are not able to limit exposures to the permissible level; limit access to high-exposure areas; train workers; and provide medical exams to highly exposed workers; and
  • Providing greater certainty and ease of compliance to construction employers—including many small employers—by including a table of specified controls they can follow to be in compliance, without having to monitor exposures.

Although many in industry have fought the rule, American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) President Richard Trumka issued a statement applauding OSHA’s “lifesaving” silica rule.

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