Inhalation of very small (respirable) crystalline silica particles puts workers at risk for silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease. OSHA recently released a proposed rule to protect workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica.
This is a proposal, not a final rule. OSHA encourages the public to participate in development of the rule by submitting comments and participating in public hearings. Your input will help OSHA develop a rule that ensures healthy working conditions for employees and is feasible for employers.
"Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential. Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and kidney disease. Workers affected by silica are fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers lost to entirely preventable illnesses. We're looking forward to public comment on the proposal."
Dr. David Michaels Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health
OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year, once the full effects of the rule are realized.
The proposed rule is the result of extensive review of scientific evidence relating to the health risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica, analysis of the diverse industries where worker exposure to crystalline silica occurs, and robust outreach efforts to affected stakeholders. OSHA carefully considered current industry consensus standards on crystalline silica exposure, recommendations from small business representatives, and input from other interested parties and partner agencies in developing the proposed rule.
OSHA currently enforces 40-year-old permissible exposure limits (PELs) for crystalline silica in general industry, construction and shipyards that are outdated, inconsistent between industries, and do not adequately protect worker health. The proposed rule brings protections into the 21st century.
"The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is pleased to join with Dr. Michaels and our partners in labor and industry in OSHA's announcement of the notice of proposed rulemaking on occupational exposure to crystalline silica. NIOSH has a long history of research and recommendations on preventing worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Ensuring the health and safety of all workers is an important part of ensuring a strong economy and future economic growth."
Dr. John Howard Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Select from the tabs at the top of the page to learn more about the proposed rule and ways you can contribute during the rulemaking process.
Without proper engineering controls, workers can be exposed to harmful levels of respirable crystalline silica that can cause silicosis, lung cancer, and other lung and kidney diseases (below)
Courtesy New Jersey Department of Health
Applying water to a saw blade when cutting materials that contain crystalline silica — such as stone, rock, concrete, brick, and block — substantially reduces the amount of dust created during these operations (right)
Courtesy Husqvarna AB
Statements on Announcement of Proposed Rule:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) [PDF* 183 KB]
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)
The NPRM is OSHA's formal notice of regulatory action related to Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica. The NPRM contains some background information on analyses related to the proposed rule, as well as the proposed regulatory text. OSHA welcomes public comments on the NPRM.
Health Effects & Risk Assessment Background Documents [PDF* 2.28 MB]
As part of the rulemaking process, OSHA carefully evaluated health effects of and the risk of morbidity and mortality associated with occupational exposure to crystalline silica. A Health Effects Supplement [PDF*] contains OSHA's assessment of additional literature published after its preliminary analysis was complete. OSHA welcomes public comments on these background documents.
Preliminary Economic Analysis (PEA) [PDF* 12 MB]
The PEA details OSHA's estimation of costs, benefits, and other economic impacts of the proposed rule. OSHA welcomes public comments on the PEA.
Employment Analysis [PDF* 397 KB]
Inforum, an independent, not-for-profit research entity, estimated the industry and aggregate employment effects of the proposed silica rule
Federal Docket for Silica Rulemaking
Visit the federal docket folder on Regulations.gov to examine supporting materials for the proposed rule and review comments submitted by other members of the public, workers and worker groups, affected industries, and other interested parties. However, some information (e.g., copyrighted material) is not publicly available to read or download through that website. All submissions to the docket, including copyrighted material, are available for inspection and, where permissible, copying at the OSHA Docket Office, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2625, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20210.
Safety & Health Topics Page on Crystalline Silica
OSHA's Safety & Health Topics page on Crystalline Silica is the Agency's main resource for information about silica hazards, health effects, control methods, and other standards applicable to protecting workers who are exposed to respirable crystalline silica on the job.
MSHA Silicosis Prevention web page
The Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) provides information about silica hazards specific to the mining industry. Miners and mine employers can find useful information about hazard identification and control from this page.
NIOSH Silica Information web page
The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) has conducted extensive research about health hazard identification and control for respirable crystalline silica.
OSHA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica was published in the Federal Register on September 12, 2013. The NPRM is available from the Federal Register in print (Document number: 2013-20997) or online at https://federalregister.gov/a/2013-20997.
2013 "Deadly Dust" Silica Video
Many American families have seen first-hand the tragic effects of silicosis. Watch OSHA's new "Deadly Dust" video to learn more about their stories and how dust control methods can help limit workers' exposure to crystalline silica.
Contractors adopt innovative concrete drill jig to reduce silica exposures during concrete drilling operations. Read more.
1938 "Stop Silicosis" Video
This 1938 video features former Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins (1933-1945), and describes both the hazards associated with silica exposure and the U.S. Department of Labor's early efforts to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for America's working men and women. Although tremendous progress has been made since this video was produced, evidence indicates that a substantial number of workers still suffer from silica-related diseases. This video is available for download at http://archive.org/details/StopSilicosis
Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might encounter on beaches and playgrounds – is created during work operations involving stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, mortar, and industrial sand. Exposures to respirable crystalline silica can occur when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing these materials. These exposures are common in brick, concrete, and pottery manufacturing operations, as well as during operations using industrial sand products, such as in foundries, sand blasting, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in the oil and gas industry.
Bill Ellis was a typical American, born and raised in the heartland to believe that hard work and perseverance would see him through.
Bill left the Army Corps of Engineers and spent the rest of his life as a painter and sandblaster. He lived in TN, in the countryside he loved, and raised a family there that now includes grandchildren and great grandchildren he'll never know.
Bill Ellis died of silicosis, a deadly tragic disease, untreatable but preventable.
Bill was born October 29, 1936. …
He retired in January in 1999. He had a heart attack in March and he had open heart surgery in October. So we were concentrating on the heart, didn't think anything about the lungs. In 2004 is when he had pneumonia three times in less than six months. So the doctor said something else was going on.
William Beckett, MD
… Usually, people who develop Silicosis have been very healthy, vigorous people, and they find after years of the disease, that they are short of breath; that they can't go very far; they can't walk very far; they can't climb the stairs. They may even be short of breath just sitting still.
David Michaels, MD Asst Sec. of Labor, OSHA
Exposure to silica can be deadly. It can cause silicosis, or lung cancer. It can cause chronic obstructive lung disease, or kidney disease.
Silica is one of Earth's most common minerals. It's found in stone, rock, brick, block and mortar. When silica is released into the air, it can be deadly if inhaled.
William Beckett, MD
What we're looking at on the left is a normal lung. You can see that the lung tissue on either side of the heart is dark and black, and that means it's full of air. And the x-ray on the right… You can see those white scars throughout the lungs on both sides - that's all scar tissue. It's from a patient with advanced silicosis.
When you start showing signs and symptoms of silicosis, taking a straw about the diameter of a dime and trying to draw air through that straw, and as time progresses, shrink the diameter of the straw and then put a bag over your head because you slowly suffocate.
Gary Sassi knows the tragedy of this disease. Stone carving is the family business. His father and grandfather both died of silicosis.
My dad at 73, he passed away but was a very healthy man, other than his lungs, and it's a shame that that man had to pass away so soon. Yeah.
David Michaels, MD Asst Sec. of Labor, OSHA
Many employers already use the common sense precautions that OSHA has included in this standard. But not all of them do. It's time for these precautions to be applied across the board, to make sure that all employers learn from the best employers, apply common sense techniques to prevent exposure to silica and to save lives.
William Beckett, MD
Put the mouthpiece in; Blow it out. Blow – blow- blow – blow - blow!!
People are still dying of Silicosis in the United States. The number of deaths has gone down over the years. But the sad part is that people are still dying of Silicosis.
Traditionally on construction sites, silica with grinding and… and cutting produces a lot of dust. And … it gets into the workers lungs, and you can protect them with a respirator
One of the breakthroughs in our research, trying to find a vacuum that is not only practical and did a good job was we found that cyclonic vacuums - and that's a vacuum that has a cylinder in it that creates a cyclonic effect where the dust drops down and doesn't have to go through the filter first.
Once I tried the new things it worked well because at the end of the day I went home without silica dust in my lungs, I went home clean at the end of the day, and I got used to it. It was just a matter of time and getting used to the equipment.
We stir up a lot of dust, so we try to prevent as much of it getting in the air as possible, so we use these vacuums. …. While we're working on cutting the joints out, we create a lot of dust which we collect in the vacuums inside these bags. .. I'd much rather have it in this bag than I would inside my lungs, or other people's lungs, that may be walking by.
… To see somebody that can't breathe. It's hard to describe actually, because you know they're going to die and really there's nothing you can say anymore. I don't know, it's hard to put it into words.
… our belief is that the very best thing you can do to protect a company is to protect the workers who are, in effect, the heart and soul of that company. The two go together: if we take care of the people who make things happen and deliver the value to the customer, it takes care of the company.
I believe that our industry here has worked hard to bring in new technology that does help with the silicosis problem. I also believe that there's also room for more education for the workers themselves to understand the critical reasons why they have to be very careful in this industry.
In today's climate we stress to our customers safety, financial stability, company stability. … We remind our men we want them to go home in the same shape, or better shape than when they showed up to work that morning.
If someone were to make the argument that it's too burdensome to address silica exposure, I would say that… to be actively engaged in protecting the lives and the health of the individuals who are out there in the workplace and allowing for a higher quality of life for them so they can play with their grandkids one day, it doesn't get any better than that.
OK, deep breath, in and out …
William Beckett, MD
… I started seeing patients with Silicosis in the 1970s, and I thought that that was the last generation of Americans who would die from Silicosis, but I was wrong. I continued to see new cases of Silicosis, and yet, there is still no treatment. So I would like to see prevention of Silicosis, so that this disease is eliminated from our hospitals and our health clinics.
David Michaels, MD Asst Sec. of Labor, OSHA
OSHA estimates that once this standard goes into effect, it will save hundreds of lives. It will prevent deaths from lung cancer, from silicosis, from kidney disease. Hundreds of lives: that's a statistic. But statistics are people with the tears washed off.
It's grandparents who won't be able to celebrate birthdays with their grand-kids.
It's workers who will no longer be able to work productively.
It's husbands and wives who won't be able to come home to their spouses. That's what this standard is about: It's about saving lives.
… After he passed, I was janitor at the church where the cemetery is. And I went up there every week, every single week. And would sit and I could talk to him, but he couldn't talk back. So it's very sad to go, and I always keep flowers on there. Each season changes … This fall I'll put fall. In winter I'll put … poinsettias on there. And the first two years I put a Christmas tree on there.
… I work two jobs to make ends meet. I'm on social security and of course I have a pension from Bill. But still it's very hard to make ends meet. And I think anything that can be done to help people safety-wise and health-wise should be done anywhere you work.
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