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OSHA Revises NEP on Silica Exposure

Feb. 25, 2020
The federal safety regulatory agency's National Emphasis Program now features a more restrictive PEL for workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration established a revised National Emphasis Program (NEP) to identify and reduce or eliminate worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in general industry, maritime, and construction.

Respirable crystalline silica includes small silica particles that are generated by cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing materials such as stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. Inhaling the dust created during these operations can cause silicosis, an incurable lung disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The NEP targets specific industries expected to have the highest numbers of workers exposed to silica, and focuses on enforcement of the new silica standards — one for general industry and maritime (29 CFR § 1910.1053), and one for construction (29 CFR § 1926.1153).

These standards first became effective in June 2016, and construction employers were required to begin complying with their standard as of September 2017, and general industry and maritime employers were required to begin complying with their standard as of June 2018.

The recent changes to the NEP include:
1. Revised application to the lower permissible exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average in general industry, maritime, and construction;

2. An updated list of target industries, as listed in the appendix of the NEP. From this list, OSHA area offices will develop randomized establishment lists of employers in their local jurisdictions for targeted inspections;

3. Compliance safety and health officers will refer to current enforcement guidance for RCS inspection procedures;

4. All OSHA regional and area offices must comply with this NEP, but they are not required to develop and implement corresponding regional or local emphasis programs; and

5. State plans must participate because of the nationwide exposures to silica.

OSHA will conduct 90 days of compliance assistance for stakeholders prior to beginning programmed inspections for the NEP.

More information on the health effects from silica exposure, and how employers can protect workers is offered at OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics webpage on Crystalline Silica.