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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 Silicosis

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) 219-9266.

The compliance memorandum is available on the Internet World Wide Web OSHA home page at in the "What's New" section, "Other OSHA Documents" section and "Compliance Assistance" section.

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents

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