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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has delayed a rule for its crystalline silica dust standard. According to OSHA, approximately 2 million construction workers are exposed to potentially dangerous levels of the toxic dust in more than 600,000 workplaces spread across the Unites States. Prolonged and/or high exposure to silica dust has been associated with a wide range of adverse health conditions, including lung cancer, silicosis and other respiratory problems.

OSHA had originally planned for its new silica dust standard to take effect June 23, 2017. Because of the unique requirements of implementation in the construction industry, however, OSHA has pushed back this date to September 23, 2017.

It's important to note that OSHA is planning to release not one but two standards governing silica dust exposure in the workplace. The first standard will focus specifically on the construction industry, while the second standard is a general standard covering all other industries. OSHA says two standards is required because of the unique challenges faced by construction workers in regards to silica dust exposure.

Once implemented, OSHA believes the new standards could save some 600 lives while preventing approximately 900 new cases of silicosis each year. In turn, this will save $7.7 billion in medical and other related exposes.

As an employer, though, you might be wondering what changes you'll have to make once the new silica dust standards take effect. Well, according to OSHA's press release, the new standards require employers to take several precautions to protect workers from silica dust hazards, some of which include the following:

  • Implement engineering controls like water and ventilation.
  • Provide workers with the appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE), which may include respirators when working around silica dust.
  • Restrict or otherwise limit workers' access to areas in which silica dust levels are high.
  • Develop a written plan to control workers' exposure to silica dust.
  • Offer on-site or off-site medical examinations to workers who are exposed to silica dust.
  • Train workers on silica dust exposure risks and how to limit exposure.

"Exposure to respirable crystalline silica can cause silicosis, lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and kidney disease. Exposure can occur during common construction tasks such as using masonry saws, grinders, drills, jackhammers and handheld powered chipping tools; operating vehicle-mounted drilling rigs; milling; operating crushing machines; and using heavy equipment for demolition or certain other task," explained OSHA.

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