Silica Dust vs. New Safety Regulations

silica dust health problems

Silicosis is an incurable and potentially fatal lung disease that can develop due to excessive exposure to silica dust.

This exposure can also lead to other dangerous medical conditions including lung cancer, kidney disease, and COPD. Although silica is most often found in workplaces associated with the construction industry, it can also be present in other industries and so precautions should be taken in these as well.

Contractors and workers who have potential exposure to respirable crystalline silica, which can be created by cutting, grinding, or blasting concrete, stone, or brick, have to meet a stricter standard regarding inhalation of the resultant dust.

According to a recent article on, a new standard regulating silica exposure will replace OSHA’s first silica standard issued in 1971. This new standard goes into effect this month (September 2017).

The new standard will require a level of no higher than 50 micrograms of silica dust particles per cubic meter of air over an average of 8 hours – a standard work shift. The previous standard was a much higher rate of 250 micrograms over the same 8-hour period. For a better understanding of this risk, consider that silica dust particles are 100 times smaller than sand granules. Failure to comply with this new standard could result in a maximum fine over $12,000 for a serious violation and a fine of nearly $127,000 for a repeat or willful violation.

A few of the new rules regarding silica dust include a requirement that contractors working in a silica exposure environment develop a written silica exposure plan, make adjustments to the workplace to maximize silica dust control, and provide medical examinations for those exposed to silica. These exams will include lung function tests and chest x-rays. Companies will also be required to provide an assessment of how much silica dust is generated in their particular operation.

According to Don Garvey, a construction safety expert with 3M, workers from other areas of specialization not normally affected by silica dust could be exposed to this risk by their proximity to other operations that generate the dust. The onus of responsibility could fall to general contractors who have to ensure that all subcontractors comply with the new standard.

If you want to learn how to begin a program to reduce your silica exposure and the associated risks, there is a free download, the Small Entity Compliance Guide , available on the OSHA website, which will help you. Also, look for an OSHA-prepared compliance official guidebook coming soon. This will also be available as a free download from the OSHA site.

Findlay All Hazards is here to help your organization understand these new regulations and minimize your risk to this potentially hazardous material. Findlay trainers have decades of public service and private industry experinence and can help you navigate through these and other work-related regulations.

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