On Sept. 12, 2013, OSHA published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica. The agency received over 2,000 comments on the proposed rule, amounting to about 34,000 pages of material. OSHA also held 14 days of public hearings, during which more than 200 stakeholders representing more than 70 organizations presented testimony. Hearing transcripts contain over 4,400 pages of testimony.
Inhalation of very small (respirable) crystalline silica particles puts workers at risk for silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease. For information on the hazards associated with silica, please see our Silica Safety and Health Topics page. For more information on this rulemaking process, please see our updated FAQs.
In the NPRM, OSHA estimated that its proposed rule would save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 1,500 new cases of silicosis per year, once the full effects of the rule were realized.
The proposed rule was 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permissible exposure limits (PELs) for crystalline silica in general industry, construction and shipyards that are outdated, inconsistent among industries, and do not adequately protect worker health. The proposed rule would bring protections into the 21st century.
"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."
Dr. David Michaels Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health
"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."
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 silica hazards.
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.
Respirable crystalline silica is a deadly dust created almost any time a worker cuts, saws, grinds, or drills stone, rock, concrete, brick, block or mortar. Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the Earth's crust, and is present in sand, concrete, stone, mortar, and other similar materials. These tiny particles (about 100 times smaller than ordinary beach sand) are common in construction work, as well as brick, concrete and pottery manufacturing operations, and during operations using industrial sand products, such as in foundries, sand blasting and fracking operations.
Yes. Silica exposure has been linked to many diseases, including silicosis, lung cancer, kidney disease and emphysema. Every year hundreds of people die in the U.S. from preventable silica-related diseases, including silicosis. From 2009 to 2013, silicosis was listed as the underlying or contributing cause of death on more than 500 U.S. death certificates, however most people who die from silicosis go undiagnosed.
Crystalline silica becomes dangerous when it becomes respirable. Activities that generate respirable dust include: using sand in abrasive blasting; sawing brick or concrete; sanding or drilling into concrete walls; grinding mortar; manufacturing brick, concrete blocks or ceramic products; and cutting or crushing stone. OSHA estimates that over two million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica.
We've known for decades that inhaling silica is harmful to health, and that its negative effects are preventable. Studies from a variety of scientific organizations, including the American Cancer Society* and NIOSH, show that silica kills and sickens hundreds of workers every year, from diseases including silicosis, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, kidney disease, and lung cancer. OSHA's assessment of the risk and health effects was independently peer-reviewed by some of the nation's leading experts on the health effects of silica.
The current standards don't offer enough protection for workers. The current permissible exposure limits (PEL) for silica were established in 1971. Studies conducted since then show that workers can still get sick or die when exposed to silica at the permissible levels. In order to better protect workers, we need to set new rules that lower the amount of silica to which they can be exposed. In addition, we need to ensure that these new limits are part of a thoughtful plan to control silica dust before workers are exposed to it. A comprehensive standard would ensure that employers use dust controls to protect workers and provide medical exams to highly exposed workers.
Even with 100% compliance with current standards, workers would still be at high risk of getting sick or dying. Peer-reviewed risk assessments performed by OSHA, NIOSH and others show that exposure at the current general industry permissible exposure limit results in highly significant risks of dying of lung cancer, kidney disease, silicosis, or other lung diseases. Risks are even higher at the current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for construction and shipyards, which is over twice as high as the general industry PEL. Simply enforcing the current limits will not substantially reduce or eliminate this risk.
No. OSHA is required by its law to only issue standards that are economically feasible for affected industries. The proposed rule issued in 2013 estimated that the benefits of changing the permissible exposure limit would be significantly higher than the costs. Net benefits were estimated at about $4.6 billion a year. The agency received many comments addressing potential costs which were estimated at $640 million a year, which will be factored into the final rule. It's also worth noting that a 1995 review* of past OSHA actions found that OSHA generally overestimates potential regulatory costs.
Before proposing a rule in 2013, the agency consulted with small businesses through the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act process and incorporated many of the recommendations in the notice of proposed rulemaking. After the proposal, OSHA sought and received extensive feedback. Altogether, OSHA received more than 2,000 public submissions from stakeholders, containing more than 34,000 pages of materials. OSHA also held 14 days of public hearings, during which more than 200 stakeholders from more than 70 organizations presented testimony. Small entities were invited to provide written comments and to participate in public hearings during the comment period, and many of them did. The entire public comment period lasted almost one year.
OSHA requested input from businesses of all sizes throughout the rulemaking process. Small business representatives reviewed an early draft of the standard during the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act review and OSHA made significant changes that were reflected in the proposed rule itself, as well as to the cost, impact and other analyses contained in the proposal. More than 200 stakeholders representing more than 70 organizations presented testimony during the 2014 public hearings, including many small business representatives.
The rule has not yet been finalized, so we cannot discuss how it differs. The details of the proposed rule can be read here. OSHA has conducted extensive outreach since the proposal was published, and the thousands of submissions received during the comment period have been taken into account in drafting the final rule.
The silica standard is one of the largest and most complex worker protection standards ever issued by OSHA. The agency conducted extensive outreach and solicited feedback from a variety of sources over a period of years. The agency issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in August 2013. We extended the comment period and we held 14 days of public hearings from March 18 to April 4, 2014. Following the public hearings, we provided the public with 60 additional days to submit evidence and 136 more days to submit final comments OSHA will use all of this information to develop a final rule based on the best available evidence in the complete rulemaking record.
Many factors are involved in the publication of a final rule, making it impossible to predict exactly when the rule will be published, but OSHA hopes to publish the final rule in early 2016.
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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