Crystalline silica is a common mineral, and it is used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, and artificial stone.
Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might find on beaches and playgrounds – is created when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar.
Activities such as abrasive blasting with sand; sawing brick or concrete; sanding or drilling into concrete walls; grinding mortar; manufacturing brick, concrete blocks, stone countertops, or ceramic products; and cutting or crushing stone result in worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica dust. Industrial sand used in certain operations, such as foundry work and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), is also a source of respirable crystalline silica exposure. About 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work.
Workers who inhale these very small crystalline silica particles are at increased risk of developing serious silica-related diseases, including:
- Silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death
- Lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Kidney disease
Along those lines, a federal initiative launched to increase the focus of agency inspections in the District of Columbia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia for the maritime, construction, and general industries on identifying, reducing, or eliminating worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica.
The initiative extends the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Respirable Crystalline Silica. NEPs are temporary programs that focus agency resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries while not creating any new obligation for employers.
The NEP on respirable crystalline silica will target specific industries in the regions expected to have the highest number of workers exposed to silica.
It will also focus on enforcement of two new silica standards, one for the general and maritime industries, and one for the construction industry. OSHA is conducting compliance assistance until May 3, after which inspections under the NEP will begin.
“The goal of this NEP is to reduce or eliminate worker exposure to dangerous silica particles, and prevent the risk of workers developing serious silica-related diseases,” said OSHA Philadelphia Regional Administrator Michael Rivera.