Construction worker using cement block cutter

Proposed Changes to the Silica Standard

Millions of workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica every day, many of whom are exposed to levels greater than OSHA’s proposed permissible exposure limit (PEL). Overexposure to silica levels causes thousands of illnesses and hundreds of deaths every year. The current PELs were adopted 40 years ago and are not sufficiently protecting workers. OSHA has proposed a new rule that is estimated to save 700 lives and prevent over 1000 new silicosis cases every year. OSHA’s proposal includes two different standards- one for general industry and maritime employment, and one for construction.

The requirements for the proposed general industry & maritime, and construction silica standards are as follows:

  • “Measure the amount of silica that workers are exposed to if it may be at or above an action level of 25 μg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), averaged over an 8-hour day;
  • Protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposures above the PEL of 50 μg/m3, averaged over an 8-hour day;
  • Limit workers’ access to areas where they could be exposed above the PEL;
  • Use dust controls to protect workers from silica exposures above the PEL;
  • Provide respirators to workers when dust controls cannot limit exposures to the PEL;
  • Offer medical exams-including chest X-rays and lung function tests-every three years for workers exposed above the PEL for 30 or more days per year;
  • Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure; and
  • Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.”

(“OSHA’s Proposed Crystalline Silica Rule: Construction.” OSHA’s Proposed Crystalline Silica Rule: Construction. US DOL OSHA, Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.
“OSHA’s Proposed Crystalline Silica Rule: General Industry and Maritime.” OSHA’s Proposed Crystalline Silica Rule: General Industry and Maritime. US DOL OSHA, Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.)

While this is not a final rule yet (comments on the rule are being accepted until 12/11/13), there are some things that you can do now to protect yourself and your workers who may be exposed to crystalline silica:

  • Introduce water into the cutting process to reduce the presence of silica dust
  • Use a vacuuming system to catch dust at the point of origin
  • Wear an N95 dust mask or air purifying respirator with HEPA filter (you must have a written respiratory protection program in place)
  • Mix concrete or cut masonry blocks outdoors
  • Change or vacuum clothing before leaving the jobsite
  • Never use compressed air when cleaning the work area
  • Do not eat, smoke, or apply makeup in areas where there is silica dust exposure


This information is provided as a service to you by Compliance Consultants, Inc.