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OSHA Releases New Silica FAQs for General Industry

On January 23, 2019, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) released a new set of 64 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for its Respirable Crystalline Silica for General Industry (silica standard) to provide further guidance to employers and employees about the silica standard's requirements. The silica standard took effect on June 23, 2016, and the compliance deadline for general industry was June 23, 2018.

The silica standard establishes a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 μg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA), and an action level of 25 μg/m3, calculated as an 8-hour TWA. Employers must ensure that employees are not exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) above the PEL. Employers must perform exposure assessments of each employee who is or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to RCS at or above the action level, and provide medical surveillance for employees who are exposed to RCS at or above the action level for 30 or more days per year. Employers must also comply with various ancillary requirements that include establishing regulated areas, providing respiratory protection, housekeeping, training, hazard communication, and medical surveillance.

The silica standard does not apply to agricultural operators, exposures that result from the processing of sorptive clays, or construction work. OSHA published separate FAQs for the construction industry in August 2018.

The standard also does not apply to employers who have objective data demonstrating that employee exposure will remain below the action level under foreseeable conditions.

Finally, the standard does not apply if 1) the task performed is indistinguishable from a construction task in Table 1 of the silica construction standard, 2) the task will not be performed regularly in the same environment and conditions, and 3) the employer complies with the requirements of the construction standard.

The FAQs for the silica general industry standard address various aspects of the standard, including:

  • Its scope and application
  • Definitions
  • Exposure assessments
  • Regulated areas
  • Methods of compliance
  • Written exposure control plans
  • Housekeeping
  • Medical surveillance
  • Hazard communication
  • Recordkeeping
  • Temporary employees

These FAQs were not developed through rulemaking and, therefore, do not amend the silica standard. However, under current administrative law, to the extent that they address an area of ambiguity, they would be viewed as OSHA's enforcement position and entitled to deference in any enforcement proceeding. To the extent that they do not address an area of ambiguity, the FAQs should simply be restating previously-issued information. Employers should review these FAQs to improve their understanding of their compliance obligations under the silica standard. 

© 2019 Keller and Heckman LLP

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About this Author

Manesh K. Rath, Keller Heckman, Occupational Safety lawyer, Associations Attorney
Partner

Manesh Rath is a trial and appellate attorney with experience in general commercial litigation, food litigation, wage and hour and class action litigation, occupational safety and health law, association law, accessibility, and labor law.

Mr. Rath has been the lead amicus counsel on several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including Staub v. Proctor Hospital and Vance v. Ball State University.

Mr. Rath is a co-author of three books in the fields of OSHA law, wage and hour law, and labor and...

202.434.4182
Javaneh Nekoomaram, KellerHeckman, environmental and workplace safety attorney
Associate

Javaneh Nekoomaram is an associate in the environmental and workplace safety and health (OSHA) practice groups at Keller and Heckman.

Ms. Nekoomaram practices in all areas of environmental law as well as occupational health and safety law, and chemical control law. She routinely advises clients on a broad range of environmental health and safety compliance issues.

Prior to joining Keller and Heckman, Ms. Nekoomaram served for three years as Counsel for the American Coatings Association where she was responsible for the association’s Occupational Health and Safety, Product Stewardship, and Environmental Management Committees. She provided regulatory compliance and advocacy on a number of issues on behalf of the coatings industry including TSCA, Prop 65, hazard communication and labeling, state chemical regulation, hazardous waste, air and water quality, occupational health and safety, and chemical safety regulations. She also served as Advocacy Counsel for the Graffiti Resource Council, an organization supported by the aerosol coatings industry that provides anti-graffiti strategies for cities across the country.

While in law school, Ms. Nekoomaram was a member of the Dean’s Tutorial Society and the Order of the Barristers, and participated in  the National Health Law Moot Court Competition and the Wagner National Labor and Employment Law Moot Court Competition. 

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