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Revised National Emphasis Program For Crystalline Silica

Silica Construction Digital Access

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Effective February 4, 2020, OSHA established a revised National Emphasis Program (NEP) to identify and reduce or eliminate worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica in general industry, maritime, construction. The NEP targets specific industries expected to have the highest numbers of workers exposed to silica, and focuses on enforcement of the new silica standards, one for general industry and maritime (29 CFR § 1910.1053) and one for construction (29 CFR § 1926.1153). These standards became effective in June 2016, and construction employers were required to begin complying with their standard as of September 23, 2017, and general industry and maritime employers were required to begin complying with their standard as of June 23, 2018.

Crystalline silica is a common industrial mineral found in many naturally occurring materials and used in many industrial products and at construction sites. Quartz, the most common form of silica, is a component of sand, concrete, stone, rock, brick and mortar. Crystalline silica is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, concrete and artificial stone.

 Occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica occurs when cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of concrete, brick, ceramic tiles, rock, and stone products. Occupational exposure also occurs in operations that process or use large quantities of sand, such as foundries and the glass, pottery and concrete products industries.

Workers who inhale very small crystalline silica particles or dust are at increased risk of developing serious, often fatal, silica-related diseases such as:

  • Lung cancer
  • Silicosis, an incurable and sometimes deadly, lung disease; and
  • Other potentially debilitating respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.

What changes were made to the NEP?

  • Revised application to the lower permissible exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average in general industry, maritime, and construction;
  • Updated list of target industries, as listed in the appendix of the NEP; from this list, area offices will develop randomized establishment lists of employers in their local jurisdictions for targeted inspections;
  • Compliance safety and health officers will refer to current enforcement guidance for RCS inspection procedures;
  • All OSHA regional and area offices must comply with this NEP, but they are not required to develop and implement corresponding regional or local emphasis programs; and
  • State Plans must participate because of the nationwide exposures to silica.

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