In about a week, OSHA’s rule on silica was supposed to go into effect for the construction industry. However, the Administration delayed implementation until late September and the rule has also been challenged in court.
That doesn’t mean industry is off the hook however. Silicosis kills about a hundred people a year and OSHA says more than two million American workers are exposed to harmful level of silica a year. Without as standard on exposure, companies may avoid OSHA fines, but wind up facing liability for silicosis cases down the road.
Construction is not alone in facing a compliance deadline if the rule goes into force. General industry and maritime will need to comply by June of next year. Oil and gas fracking operations need to comply with new engineering controls by June of 2021. That 2021 date has caused some confusion within the oil and gas sector. Many read it to mean that they don’t need to meet the requirement for four more years. However, the rule actually says that fracking operations need to protect workers from silica exposure by next June, just like other general industries. The 2021 date is when they need to adopt engineering control to limit the amount of respirable silica around drilling sites.
The chemical company ArrMaz produces a product that coats sand to reduce silica dust used in fracking operations. The company has developed one of the best explanations of how the rule will be applied in oil and gas operations that I have seen. You can download a copy of their graphic here: ArrMaz_Respirable Crystalline Silica_InfoGraphic.
The bottom line is that there are ways to reduce silica dust on a frack site and industry is working on other engineering solutions, but companies need to understand that the requirement to protect workers on the exposure side is likely to arrive in a year.