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December 22, 2023
California issues emergency silica standard

On December 14, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) approved an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for respirable crystalline silica to protect workers from silicosis, the state Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) announced.

The ETS goes into effect on December 29.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) proposed the ETS to protect workers in the stone fabrication industry from silicosis. Workers who breathe in silica particles can develop silicosis, an incurable, progressive disease that causes serious and fatal health effects. The workers most at risk are those who cut artificial stone countertops, according to the DIR.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has identified 95 cases of workers who have developed silicosis since 2019, 10 of whom died from the disease.

The ETS includes requirements to protect workers engaged in high-exposure tasks such as cutting, grinding, polishing, and cleanup of artificial stone containing more than 0.1% crystalline silica and natural stone containing more than 10% crystalline silica.

Requirements of the ETS include work practices such as:

  • Using wet methods,
  • Properly handling all waste materials,
  • Employing safe cleanup housekeeping methods, and
  • Monitoring the air to confirm respirable crystalline silica levels are below the emergency rule’s action level.

The ETS also contains respiratory protection requirements that include the use of a full-face, tight-fitting, powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), or an equally protective alternative, and an organic vapor cartridge for artificial stonework, with certain exceptions. The ETS also requires the use of a supplied-air respirator under certain conditions.

The ETS’s communication requirements include ensuring training and information are appropriate for employees’ language and literacy. Employers also must include text on signs posted in regulated areas that describe the risks of permanent lung damage and death in English and Spanish.

Employers must train employees on the symptoms of respirable crystalline silica exposure and how to prevent exposures, as well as encourage the reporting of symptoms of respirable crystalline silica exposure without fear of retaliation.

Employers must conduct exposure monitoring at least every 12 months to assess the effectiveness of exposure controls. They also must ensure all “high-exposure trigger tasks” are conducted in a clearly designated area with signage warning of respirable crystalline silica hazards.

When dry operations are observed, Cal/OSHA will issue an Order Prohibiting Use (OPU). The state agency also may issue an OPU when violations are found related to prohibited activities, respiratory protection, reporting of silicosis, and carcinogen reporting.

Employers must report employees with confirmed silicosis or lung cancer to Cal/OSHA and the CDPH. Healthcare providers contracted by employers to evaluate their employees also must report confirmed silicosis cases to Cal/OSHA.

The OSHSB, a seven-member body appointed by the governor, is the state’s standards-setting agency. California administers a state workplace safety and health program approved by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In September, federal OSHA launched an enforcement and compliance assistance initiative aimed at silica exposures in the engineered stone fabrication and installation industries. The new federal initiative supplements enforcement efforts under the agency’s revised National Emphasis Program (NEP) for respirable crystalline silica issued in February 2020.

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