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December 06, 2013
NIOSH-supported site provides silica safety solutions

Now that OSHA has proposed a standard to protect construction workers and others from silica dust, many employers have questions about the hazard, the materials, and the tasks that put their workers at risk. Keep reading to learn about a new resource that provides answers to those questions and helps protect employees.

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The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), a nonprofit research institute supported by NIOSH, has developed an online resource to help contractors with silica-related issues. Work Safely with Silica (http://www.silica-safe.org) provides regulatory news, articles, best practices, and relevant scientific research.

The site features an online planning tool as well. It helps users assess the hazards on a job and identify the appropriate methods and equipment to control those hazards. Based on the information provided, the tool generates a site-specific silica control plan.

What’s in OSHA’s silica proposal?

Inhalation of very small (respirable) crystalline silica particles puts workers at risk for silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.

OSHA currently enforces 40-year-old permissible exposure limits (PELs) for crystalline silica in general industry, construction, and shipyards. The agency says these limits are outdated, inconsistent, and do not adequately protect worker health.

The proposal would limit exposure to a new PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour day. The new PEL would be the same in all industries covered by the rule.

OSHA is also proposing to require employers to measure how much silica workers are exposed to, limit workers’ access to areas where silica exposures are high, use effective methods for reducing exposures, provide medical exams to workers with high exposures, and train employees about silica-related hazards and how to reduce exposure.

These provisions are similar to industry consensus standards that many employers have been using for years. OSHA says the technology to better protect workers is already widely available.

The agency estimates that the proposed rule will save nearly 700 lives and eventually prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year. Details about the proposal are at https://www.osha.gov/silica.

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