New OSHA Silica Dust Standards Designed to Help Workers Breathe Easier

Approximately 2.3 Million People in the U.S. Are Exposed to Silica at Work

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR agency best known as OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has a mantra: “Control silica dust. Breathe easier.” The agency also has two new standards to help better protect workers from the detrimental health effects of silica dust exposure.

Silica is one of the most common naturally occurring elements on the planet, reports The Center for Construction Research and Training on its website, Silica, the mineral compound silicon dioxide (SiO2), is found in two forms — crystalline or noncrystalline (also referred to as amorphous). Sand and quartz are common examples of crystalline silica. Materials like sand, quartz, stone, concrete, and mortar contain crystalline silica, OSHA adds. It also is used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, and artificial stone.

OSHA offers these details about respirable crystalline silica — particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary beach or playground sand:

  • Silica dust 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), also is a source of respirable crystalline silica exposure.
  • About 2.3 million people in the United States are exposed to silica at work.
  • Workers who inhale 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); and kidney disease.

One of OSHA’s two new respirable crystalline silica standards is for construction; the other is for general industry and maritime. Enforcement of most provisions of the construction standard began on Sept. 23, 2017. Enforcement of the standard for general industry and maritime is scheduled to start on June 23, 2018.

Each of the new OSHA standards basically requires employers to further limit worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica and to take other steps to protect workers.

Rules for complying with the construction standard are available at:

Rules for complying with the general industry-maritime standard are available at:

You can learn more by clicking over to and

Consulting services to help local employers understand and best apply these standards, if applicable, are available through Safety Solutions & Supply. Training for employees also is available with classes that can be customized for specific employment hazards and tasks.