OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.

March 27, 1998

The Honorable Virgil H. Goode
U. S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-4605

Dear Congressman Goode:

Thank you for your correspondence of October 27, 1997, requesting information on the status of the Special Emphasis Program (SEP) for Silicosis. Please accept my apology for the delay in this response.

Special emphasis programs target the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) resources to industries and facilities where a hazard exists. The SEP for Silicosis was initiated August 1996. The SEP consisted of an outreach and an enforcement component. The special emphasis program was developed with the assistance and extensive input from our stakeholders in both industry and labor which included the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the American Lung Association, the AFL-CIO, Unimin Corporation, Vulcan Materials Co., and others.

OSHA has regulated employee exposures to silica since its inception. The SEP was initiated based on the widespread presence and use of crystalline silica, data from NIOSH regarding the number of exposed workers, and the number of silicosis-related deaths. Therefore, OSHA has maintained a continuous commitment to the special emphasis program (SEP) for silicosis.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has stated that "there is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of inhaled crystalline silica in the form of quartz or cristobalite from occupational sources" (IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans: Silica, Some Silicates, Coal Dust and para-Aramid Fibrils, Volume 68, 15-22 October 1996). OSHA's SEP for Silicosis was not initiated as a response to IARC's determination but as a response to the more than 100,000 workers in the United States exposed to silica. OSHA is committed to preventing silicosis by ensuring that employers protect their workers against this disease. Further, OSHA in its five-year Strategic Plan has included assuring worker protection from overexposure to silica as an Agency priority. OSHA also has recently placed occupational exposure to silica on the Regulatory Agenda for future expanded rulemaking effort.

Enclosed is a copy of OSHA's SEP for Silicosis for your information and reference. Thank you for the time and interest that you have taken in this matter. If further information is needed, please do not hesitate to contact OSHA's Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 219-8036.


Charles N. Jeffress
Assistant Secretary