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OSHA’s Silica Requirements now “Crystal” Clear for Manufacturers

Friday, April 8, 2016
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On Friday, March 25th OSHA published its final rule covering crystalline silica in construction, general industry, and shipbuilding. Crystalline silica has been on OSHA’s radar screen for the last 10 years. The agency has been in the process of developing a comprehensive standard during that time. This informational piece focuses on manufacturing, a similar article has been published on silica for the construction industry.

Silica is found in the most common building materials on the planet including sand, mortar, concrete, asphalt, drywall, drywall compound, bricks, blocks, stone, tile, and many more building materials too numerous to list. Sand is the principal material used to make metal castings and is also used as an abrasive blasting agent to remove surfaces of rust or scale and prepare them for painting. Silica containing sands are also used in the manufacture of concrete building products such as pre-stressed wall and floor panels, pipe, block, brick, and tile. These manufacturing processes can expose employees to dusts containing silica. Over time, this causes mechanical damage to the lungs resulting in several diseases including silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, and even kidney disease.

The new regulation for industry establishes a much lower limit of silica to which employees may be exposed. Additionally, comprehensive requirements including requirements to measure exposure, develop and implement engineering controls, provide medical evaluations, develop specialized written programs, train employees, housekeeping requirements, and record keeping are also included in the new standard. The attached bulletin from OSHA describes the various industries that are likely to be impacted by this new standard.

The standard published on March 25th is “effective” on June 23rd, 2016, but becomes enforceable on June 23rd, 2018 for all but one provision in the new law. Employers will have until June 23rd, 2020 to comply with all aspects of the general industry standard. Future pieces will focus on specifics of the regulation and specific OSHA compliance liabilities, but the purpose of this article is to inform of the existence of the new law and the effect it will have on manufacturers and industries.  

More workers died from silicosis in 2014 than deaths from fires, caught in or between type deaths, or crushing injuries such as those suffered in trench collapses. Also, these deaths do not include workers who died from COPD, lung cancer, and kidney disease. Clearly, silica is still a very real problem and the deaths do not count the additional thousands of workers who suffer the results of the diseases before death occurs. The inception of the new standard will most certainly result in exponential growth of the number of work related diseases and deaths diagnosed as a result of exposure to silica.

Workers’ compensation insurers are, or will become, aware of these new requirements. Silica is already used by many insurers in the assessment and appetite for various types of manufacturing accounts. Insurers will exercise their due diligence to assure a prospective insurance client is addressing exposure to silica through compliance with this new standard. Manufacturers and businesses with no formal silica program in place may be declined, non-renewed, or priced accordingly.

Perhaps more importantly, it is anticipated the regulation will result in a large number of previously undiagnosed cases being discovered. Many workers exposed to silica over the years may be taking their symptoms for granted. The chest x-rays and medical evaluations required in the new standard will certainly reveal lung conditions that may be directly or indirectly related to exposure to silica. As everyone already knows, the aggravation of a pre-existing condition results in a claim to the current employer. Also, the medical community itself will be better informed with the publication of the new standard and will be more likely to connect the existence of COPD, lung cancer, and the other effects associated with occupational exposure to silica. These occupational disease claims will likely be quite costly.

No pun intended, but “burying your head in the sand” is not a viable strategy to address this new OSHA standard. This new standard is much, much more than a requirement to issue respirators and tell employees to stand upwind of dust plumes. The manufacturer’s and businesses who get in front of this issue are far more likely to successfully weather the storm than those who do not. Fortunately, from an OSHA compliance and risk management perspective, there is plenty of time to develop a strategy for compliance. Those who adopt a very aggressive strategy will be the industry leaders and positioned to survive the consequences of this sweeping new standard.

The links below connect you to documents published by OSHA providing a very general overview of the new standard. Future pieces will focus on specifics in the law and the specific strategies businesses can use to stay ahead of this new law and all of its many non-compliance related implications. Even though industry has two years to achieve compliance, we strongly recommend current exposures be evaluated now and a plan developed to achieve compliance. Please reach out with any questions or concerns you have. We are happy to help guide you through these murky waters in understanding this new and complex regulation.

Additional information

Additional information on OSHA’s silica rule can be found at www.osha.gov/silica.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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