HomeWashington Letter2016 ▶ OSHA Issues New Silica Standards
OSHA Issues New Silica Standards

March 2016

For the first time in decades, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued new rules to reduce exposure to occupational silica dust exposures in the U.S.  The new standard of 50 ug/m3 averaged over an eight-hour shift replaces the previous standard of 100 ug/m3 established in 1971.

More than two million people – including construction workers, miners and a number of other occupations – have been exposed to toxic silica dust during their working lives and are, therefore, at risk of developing significant silica-related lung disease.  Diseases associated with silica exposure include silicosis, lung cancer, and lung function impairment.  Toxic dust containing crystalline silica is produced whenever rock or sand is broken, drilled, or crushed. When inhaled, these small particles damage cells and can result in severe lung damage.  Crystalline silica is associated with increased mortality rates from respiratory disease, including lung cancer.

While the ATS welcomes the more protective standard, we believe other elements of the rule are equally important in preventing occupational silica disease including:

  • Requiring employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) and work practices to limit worker exposure;
  • Providing respiratory protection when controls are not able to limit exposures to the permissible level;
  • Limiting access to high exposure areas;
  • Training workers and providing medical exams to highly exposed workers.

"Each case of newly-diagnosed silica-related disease in the U.S. represents a failure to maintain a safe working environment for employees.  Silica-related diseases are preventable with simple, inexpensive interventions.  Today's rule will greatly improve the workplace environment for millions of working Americans," Robert Cohen, MD, occupational health expert and ATS spokesperson.

Last Reviewed: October 2017