While I would think everyone in the stone industry agrees that safety is a top priority when it comes to running a stone fabrication shop, everyone might not agree on the new Silica Rule, which was recently announced by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and scheduled to go into effect on June 23, 2016. The rule establishes two standards, where only one existed previously, and reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) from 100 µg/m3 for an eight-hour time-weighted average to 50 µg/m3.

You can read in detail about the new rule in the article that begins on page 38 of this issue, but I will provide a few highlights. OSHA’s Silica Rule is broken into two standards: one for construction and one for the general industry. When installing and restoring stone in the field, stone companies should follow the construction standard. When cutting stone in a fabrication, cut stone or production facility, the general industry standard applies. Companies that fall into the general industry category must comply with all requirements by June 23, 2018, while companies in the construction category must comply one year earlier, with all requirements by June 23, 2017.

One of the requirements stipulated in both categories is to offer medical exams, including chest x-rays and lung function tests, every three years to workers exposed at or above the action level for 30 or more days per year. While everyone wants to protect their employees and maintain a safe work environment, there are some who feel that the new Silica Rule can be costly. There are also some who wish OSHA would have focused its efforts on enforcing the current standard, which has been directly linked to reducing the number of cases of silicosis over the past 40 years, rather than developing a new more stringent standard.

On March 31, 2016, MIA+BSI and NSC joined the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC), a coalition of trade associations that joined together to financially support litigation, which was filed in Federal Circuit Court to challenge several aspects of the OSHA rule. The strategy is to get OSHA to negotiate implementation of the rule, including costs of engineering controls and medical exams.

Silicosis is a serious condition that is incurable, but it is preventable. The article, which was written by MIA+BSI, stresses that this is a good time to review shop safety procedures and training programs. Companies need to be ready when OSHA comes for its inspection, and regardless, it is imperative to maintain a safe work environment for workers. If you are looking to learn more about OSHA’s new Silica Rule, a good start would be to check out www.naturalstoneinstitute.org/silica. Industry leaders are working hard to be a source of information that can assist those in the stone sector.