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Respirable Crystalline Silica

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth’s crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete, and mortar contain crystalline silica. It is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, and artificial stone.

Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might find on beaches and playgrounds – is created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. Activities such as abrasive blasting with sand; sawing brick or concrete; sanding or drilling into concrete walls; grinding mortar; manufacturing brick, concrete blocks, stone countertops, or ceramic products; and cutting or crushing stone result in worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica dust. Industrial sand used in certain operations, such as foundry work and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), is also a source of respirable crystalline silica exposure. About 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work.

Workers who inhale these very small crystalline silica particles are at increased risk of developing serious silica-related diseases, including:

  • Silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death;
  • Lung cancer;
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and
  • Kidney disease.

To protect workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica, OSHA has issued two respirable crystalline silica standards: one for construction, and the other for general industry and maritime.

Originally proposed back in September 2013, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard, commonly known as the OSHA Silica Standard, has taken some time to become an enforceable standard. However, as of 2020, the OSHA Silica Standard will be targeted for enforcement and compliance.

On February 4, 2020, OSHA released an updated National Emphasis Program (NEP) for silica. The original NEP for silica was released in 2008 and was later cancelled in 2017. The 2020 NEP has several important updates:

  • The new NEP will specifically address enforcement of the 2016 general industry, construction, and maritime silica standard. This includes the updated permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3).
  • An updated list of target industries including, but not limited to, landscaping services, state and local governments, concrete product manufacturing and machine shops.
    State Plans are required to participate in the NEP.
  • Inspections generated from this NEP can be initiated three months after OSHA conducts outreach programs regarding this NEP. Outreach programs include letters and news releases, seminars, onsite consultation programs, and working with partnerships, organizations, and alliances to disseminate information on controlling and eliminating worker exposure to silica.
  • Inspections will still be performed for complaints, referrals, hospitalizations, and fatalities related to silica dust and exposure.

How can we help?

  • Develop site specific exposure control programs
  • Conduct compliance audits
  • Conduct initial and on-going exposure assessment
  • Collect and interpret objective data as defined under the rule
  • Provide a competent person as defined by OSHA to conduct onsite supervision/oversight
  • Provide expert witness testimony services

Why choose RSB Environmental for your Industrial Hygiene Needs?

Here are a few of the many reasons to choose RSB Environmental:

  • Certified Industrial Hygienist
  • Licensed Engineering Firm
  • Fast Turnaround (7-10 business days)
  • Competitive Pricing
  • $1M Professional Liability Insurance
  • Completed thousands of inspections nationwide

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RSB has conducted Industrial Hygiene projects nationwide. Please feel free to call us at 1-800-304-6517 or email at to get a site specific price for your property.

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