OSHA Issues Silica Standard Enforcement Guidance

As the employer’s medical surveillance testing obligations expand, OSHA issues new instructions to regional offices regarding Silica Standard enforcement.

Updated Marching Orders

The compliance directive issued to compliance officers at the end of June provided detailed inspection guidance and enforcement procedures to regional offices. For employers, it provides the clearest window we have to date concerning what inspectors will look for when they visit a business or job site.

The directive includes additional clarity on several significant topics, including the use of “alternative control methods” when a construction employer does not fully implement Table 1 tasks and specified exposure control methods. Also addressed in the new OSHA Instruction document is the issue of multi-employer job sites and the responsibility of the “host employer” for the medical surveillance of temporary workers.

Expanded Employer Responsibilities

While the two silica standards — one for general industry/maritime (29 CFR § 1910.1053), and one for construction (29 CFR § 1926.1153) — were first published in the Federal Register on June 23, 2016, it wasn’t until June 23, 2020, that employers in general industry and maritime operations were required to provide medical surveillance for certain employees. As of June 23, medical surveillance is required for any employee exposed at or above the action level (AL) for 30 or more days a year. The AL for silica is defined as exposure at or above 25 μg/m³ during an 8-hour shift, for 30 or more days a year.

The upshot is that more employers than ever before are now required to provide medical surveillance of all employees who meet the new AL exposure criteria.

Medical Surveillance Testing

For employers who are now required to provide medical surveillance testing for the first time, you have a new set of obligations. A summary of these obligations follows.

As specified in the standard, all employer-provided medical surveillance testing involves an initial medical examination conducted by a physician or other licensed health care provider (PLHCP). For the PLHCP to conduct a meaningful and complete exam, the employer must provide the PLHCP with the following information:

  • A copy of the OSHA Silica Standard;
  • A description of the employee’s previous, current, and anticipated duties related to exposure to respirable crystalline silica;
  • The employee’s former, present, and expected levels of occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica;
  • A description of any personal protective equipment (PCP) used by the employee;
  • Any information about employment-related medical exams previously received by the employee, if information about such exams is currently within the employer’s control.

The initial examination must include:

  • A medical and work history, with emphasis on past, present, and anticipated exposure to respirable crystalline silica system dysfunction, including signs and symptoms of, dust, and other agents affecting the respiratory system; any history of respiratory disease (e.g., shortness of breath, cough, wheezing); any history of tuberculosis; and smoking status and history;
  • A physical examination with particular emphasis on the respiratory system;
  • A chest X-ray (a single poster anterior radiographic projection or radiograph of the chest at full inspiration recorded on either film or digital
  • A pulmonary function test;
  • Testing for latent tuberculosis infection; and
  • Any other tests deemed appropriate by the PLHCP.

Follow-up examinations must be scheduled a minimum of once every three years unless the PLHCP recommends a higher frequency.

Should you have any questions or concerns about compliance with OSHA’s medical surveillance testing requirements for silica — or if you have received an OSHA citation for any reason – feel free to contact me.

About the Author: James Laboe


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