News Release USDL: 96-172
Wednesday, May 8, 1996
Contact: Frank Kane (202) 219-8151
OSHA Launches National Special Emphasis
Program To Reduce Worker Silica Dust Exposures That Can Cause
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will
conduct a national special emphasis program on crystalline silica
that includes extensive outreach as well as inspections in order
to reduce the potential threat of silicosis, a disabling and
sometimes fatal disease, to workers.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and
Health Joseph A. Dear said, "The National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has estimated that two
million workers in the U.S. are exposed annually to crystalline
silica. These workers are especially at risk while doing
sandblasting, drilling or tunneling. We want to protect them as
much as possible."
The special emphasis program will apply to all workplaces
under OSHA's jurisdiction in the general industry, construction
and maritime sectors. Details of the program are contained in a
compliance memorandum Dear issued to field offices on May 2. A
silicosis coordinator has been designated in each region to
coordinate the special emphasis program activities.
To encourage voluntary protection measures by employers,
OSHA will conduct an outreach program for 60 days before
proceeding with enforcement under existing OSHA standards. The
outreach and voluntary protection program involves the efforts of
three governmental agencies. Outreach materials are being
developed by OSHA's Office of Education and Training, working
with NIOSH and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
Among the outreach materials being developed are slides
about hazard recognition and crystalline silica control
technology, a video on crystalline silica and silicosis, and
informational cards for workers explaining crystalline silica,
health effects and methods of control.
OSHA has also designated crystalline silica as a priority
for a future comprehensive rulemaking. Last December OSHA issued
its report generated by the Priority Planning Process in which
crystalline silica was identified as a priority rulemaking
action. Priorities selected for rulemaking will be added to
OSHA's regulatory calendar as other standards now on the calendar
are completed and resources become available.
Crystalline silica is the basic component of sand, quartz
and granite rock. Activities that can generate airborne
crystalline silica dust include: abrasive blasting, rock
drilling, foundry work, grinding, stone cutting, mining and
concrete drilling or cutting. Inhalation of airborne crystalline
silica can lead to silicosis, a disabling, progressive and
sometimes fatal disease involving scarring of the lungs. About
300 deaths are attributed to silicosis annually. Inhaling silica
dust has also been associated with other diseases such as
tuberculosis and lung cancer.
The compliance memorandum lists sources of information for
targeting crystalline silica inspection sites. These sources
include workers' compensation data, SENSOR data from a NIOSH
program of cooperative agreements with state health departments,
and injury and illness recordkeeping data collected by OSHA.
The compliance memorandum also describes the steps that
compliance officers should take when inspecting sites for
possible overexposure to crystalline silica. The program
contains an element allowing for focused inspections on sites
where silica is not controlled effectively. Compliance officers
will limit their inspections at sites that have implemented an
effective and ongoing silicosis prevention program. This
proposal implements the principles of "The New OSHA" announced in
May, 1995, by President Clinton and Vice President Gore.
Elements of an effective silicosis prevention program may
include ongoing personal air monitoring, ongoing medical
surveillance, training and information to workers on crystalline
silica, availability of air and medical surveillance data to
workers, an effective respiratory protection program, hygiene
facilities, appropriate recordkeeping, personal exposures below
the PEL or an abatement program that provides interim worker
protection, a safety and health program addressing overexposure
to crystalline silica, and regulated areas.
OSHA standards that may be cited as part of crystalline
silica enforcement include those involving respiratory
protection; permissible exposure limits; accident prevention and
warning signs; access to employee exposure and medical records;
recordkeeping; engineering and work practice controls; hygiene;
general personal protective equipment; hazard communication;
safety and health programs (in construction); and training
requirements (in construction).
The 25 states and territories with their own OSHA-approved
occupational safety and health programs are encouraged, but not
required, to adopt an identical or alternative policy.
For assistance in developing a silicosis prevention program,
employers can contact their local OSHA consultation service for
free guidance and assistance.
A single free copy of the compliance memorandum may be
obtained after May 28 by sending a self-addressed label to the
U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA/OSHA Publications, P.O. Box 37535
Washington, DC 20013-7535. Telephone (202) 219-4667, fax (202)
The compliance memorandum is available on the Internet World
Wide Web OSHA home page at http://www.osha.gov/ in the "What's
New" section, "Other OSHA Documents" section and "Compliance