Contractors Beware: OSHA Begins Enforcement of New Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard
On October 19, 2017, OSHA released interim enforcement guidance for its Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction Standard. This standard began full enforcement on October 23, 2017.
The Interim Enforcement Guidance issued refers to the standard promulgated on September 23, 2017. Initially, rather than issue citations for violations of the standard, OSHA’s compliance officers were instructed to assist employers making good faith efforts to comply with the new standard for the first 30 days of its enforcement. With the new Guidance issued on October 19, full enforcement of the new standard was rolled out on October 23. Accordingly, employers in the construction industry, and particularly those where substantial silica exposures may be encountered, should be cognizant that full enforcement of the standard will now be enforced by compliance officers.
The Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction Standard established a new exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica at 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air as a weighted average during a worker’s an eight hour shift. This new permissible exposure limit is five times lower than the prior limit for respirable crystalline silica.
Because prolonged and intense exposure to crystalline silica is known to cause cancer, and crystalline silica is byproduct of many construction activities and materials, such as concrete, rock, mortar and sand, OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction Standard is intended to limit such exposures. Many safety measures can be installed and protective equipment can and should be used to avoid intense or prolonged exposures to crystalline silica. Contractors frequently involved in operations where such exposure is likely should be careful to provide all necessary safety measures, safety equipment and personal protective equipment necessary to comply with the new standard.
If you have questions regarding OSHA’s new guidance, your compliance with other OSHA safety standards, or in connection with your rights after a citation has been issued, you are well-advised to consult with counsel familiar with OSHA matters.