OSHA’s silica rule had been debated and delayed so many times and industry opposition has been so loud, many thought the new standard would never be put in place. Think again.
Experts appear more and more certain that OSHA will hold firm on its plan for the silica regulations to go into force in the construction industry on September 23rd. The date was originally supposed to be June 23rd, but with the change in Administrations, the philosophical changes represented by the new President and lawsuits challenging the rule, OSHA decided to extend the deadline until September 23rd to give industry more time to come into compliance.
It is very possible that the delays had just the opposite effect, signalling to industry that the rule might never be put into force. Do you know of companies that have been rushing to meet the new rule?
But, barring some new announcement, it looks like the construction industry will need to be in compliance in about five weeks. What does that mean?
- The permissible limits of respirable silica have been reduced significantly – about 1/5 of the old limits.
- Companies have two choices – use a control method outlined in the regulation or come up with an alternative that is at least as effective as the regulatory approach.
- Host companies have an obligation to communicate the requirements to contractors and subcontractors.
OSHA has a website here that contains a lot of useful information on the rule, including a new guide for small business. There also a table with very detailed information on how to address silica hazards from specific operations.
Two of the things that industry will have the hardest time adapting to may be the monitoring/sampling process and the respirator requirements. Employers will need to do site monitoring and use labs for analysis. It is somewhat unclear how this will be accomplished for companies that move sites frequently. The respirator rules are common-sense, no one would argue against employees who are exposed to dust or any kind not having protection. However, with the change, we are not just talking about putting on a dust mask and getting to work. Companies will need a medical surveillance program with all of the cost and hassles that can represent.
Next month, the construction industry needs to adapt to the new rules. The rest of you will get your chance later. General industry, maritime and fracking operations must be in compliance by June 23 of next year.