WASHINGTON — On March 24, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a final rule to improve protections for workers exposed to respirable silica dust. The final rule is written as two standards, one for construction and one for general industry and maritime.

For the construction industry and affected Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) contractors, potential silica exposures are found in tasks that include drilling and cutting concrete and stone. For SMACNA contractors, a typical task affected by this rule would be setting duct and pipe hangers into concrete.

The final rule includes these general provisions:

• 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;

• Reducing the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift; and

• 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.

Employers covered by the construction standard have until June 23, 2017, to comply with most requirements. Employers covered by the general industry and maritime standard have until June 23, 2018, to comply with most requirements.

In the coming weeks, SMACNA will provide compliance-assistance materials. In the meantime, the OSHA silica website has current information including a fact sheet for construction. For additional information, contact Mike McCullion, director of market sectors and safety, SMACNA, at mmccullion@smacna.org or (703) 995-4027.

Publication date: 5/9/2016

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