Crystalline silica is an abundant, natural mineral commonly found in sand, stone, and soil, as well as construction materials such as concrete, brick, and mortar. Exposure to silica dust can cause disabling, even fatal, lung diseases including silicosis, and occurs by inhaling dust particles from cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing these materials, which can be found in a wide variety of workplaces. OSHA estimates that over 2.3 million workers in the United States—nearly 90 percent of whom are employed in construction—are potentially exposed to silica dust.
For these reasons, Oregon OSHA is following in the footsteps of federal OSHA to implement stricter standards that, if adopted, will:
(1) reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to airborne crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (mg/m3);
(2) institute an action level at 25 mg/m3;
(3) require engineering controls and work practices that limit employee exposure to the new PEL;
(4) require a written exposure control plan;
(5) require exposure assessments and reassessment if any work conditions change; and
(6) require provisions for respiratory protection, medical surveillance, employee training, and recordkeeping.
Only one key difference distinguishes Oregon OSHA’s rulemaking from its federal counterpart: unlike the federal rules which adopted separate silica standards by industry, Oregon OSHA’s proposed rules combine the new requirements into one general standard, codified at OAR 437-002-1053 through 437-002-1065. Therefore, the impact on Oregon employers, regardless of industry, will be the same.
Dinah Choi has a nationwide regulatory compliance and employment litigation practice focused on workplace safety and health. She provides compliance advice to employers on the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act and state plans including the Oregon Safe Employment Act and Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, as well as to mine operators on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act – all designed to give employers operational freedom and practical business solutions while...