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February 26, 2020

OSHA’s New Silica Standard Enforcement: What to Expect

By Dan Bracey, CSP, CHMM


Originally proposed back in September 2013, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard, commonly known as the OSHA Silica Standard, has taken some time to become an enforceable standard. However, as of 2020, the OSHA Silica Standard will be targeted for enforcement and compliance.

On February 4, 2020, OSHA released an updated National Emphasis Program (NEP) for silica.  The original NEP for silica was released in 2008 and was later cancelled in 2017.  The 2020 NEP has several important updates:

  • The new NEP will specifically address enforcement of the 2016 general industry, construction, and maritime silica standard.  This includes the updated permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica of 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3).
  • An updated list of target industries including, but not limited to, landscaping services, state and local governments, concrete product manufacturing and machine shops.
  • State Plans are required to participate in the NEP.
  • Inspections generated from this NEP can be initiated three months after OSHA conducts outreach programs regarding this NEP.  Outreach programs include letters and news releases, seminars, onsite consultation programs, and working with partnerships, organizations, and alliances to disseminate information on controlling and eliminating worker exposure to silica.  Inspections will still be performed for complaints, referrals, hospitalizations, and fatalities related to silica dust and exposure.

How to Prepare for Compliance

The biggest concern for any business owner, manager, or safety professional is how this standard affects their business and workers, and how do they prepare?  A qualified health and safety professional can help answer detailed questions and concerns, but to get ahead of any potential enforcement actions, here are some basic recommendations for complying with the standard.

  1. If there is any potential exposure to silica at your workplace, review your current health and safety plans  so that silica exposure is specifically addressed.  For example, if your site has an industrial hygiene program, verify that silica is addressed, and employee monitoring has been performed.
  2. If you already do employee monitoring for silica, check your records so that you are applying the results to the new PEL.  If employee exposure is above the PEL, verify that steps have been taken to reduce or eliminate exposures, with records of actions taken.  Records can include training logs, respirator fit testing, records of engineering control installations, etc.
  3. Provide training to employees on the potential hazards of silica exposure and create a workplace that allows employee concerns about exposure to be taken seriously.
  4. Review the NEP, particularly the appendices, which includes a list of target industries.  If your business falls into one of these categories, then a review/update of your silica exposure program would be strongly recommended.
  5. If you feel overwhelmed or have any questions regarding any of these requirements, do not hesitate to seek professional help.  Having a professional conduct a third-party health and safety audit of your operation can help prepare your company for an OSHA inspection, prevent expensive citations, and perhaps even prevent serious injuries or fatalities in your workplace.


As with any OSHA standard, extensive supplemental guidance materials and references are available. Links pertaining to the new silica standard are provided below:

OSHA crystalline silica website

OSHA’s Silica NEP

Health and safety regulations are ever-evolving and becoming more and more complex. In order for both public and private entities to stay up-to-date and compliant with the latest regulations, it is essential to engage the services of qualified health and safety, environmental, and industrial hygiene professionals who can help stakeholders manage risk, limit their liability, and help protect their assets.

Partner Engineering and Science’s experienced staff consists of certified industrial hygienists, professional engineers, scientists, safety engineers, and regulatory experts who can help keep your business and its employees safe and compliant.

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