Crystalline Silica General Industry and Maritime Standard

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Dust control efforts can include HEPA-filtered vacuuming; wet methods that apply water at the point where silica dust is made; local exhaust ventilation that removes silica dust at or near the point where it is made; and enclosures that isolate the work process or the worker.

Workers must not allow dry sweeping or dry brushing where they could contribute to employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica, unless methods like the ones mentioned above are not feasible. In addition, employers must not allow compressed air to be used to clean clothing or surfaces unless (1) the compressed air is used in conjunction with a ventilation system that effectively captures the dust cloud created by the compressed air; or (2) no alternative method is feasible.

Why Standard is Important

Crystalline silica is all around us: in sand, stone, concrete and mortar. This common mineral found in the earth’s crust is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks and artificial stone.

However, when it’s turned into tiny particles by workplace activities like cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick and mortar, crystalline silica becomes respirable—and dangerous to human health.

Approximately 2.3 million people in the U.S. are exposed to respirable crystalline silica at work. Exposure can occur during the manufacture of glass, pottery, ceramic, brick, concrete, asphalt roofing, jewelry, artificial stone, dental, porcelain or structural clay products; the use of industrial sand in operations such as foundry work and hydraulic fracturing; and the use of sand for abrasive blasting (e.g., maritime operations).

Breathing in very small crystalline silica particles can cause a number of life-altering and life-threatening diseases. Silicosis, which results in scar tissue forming on the lungs, is incurable and can be fatal. It typically occurs after 15–20 years of occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Because silicosis affects the immune system, it increases the risk of lung infections, such as tuberculosis. Exposure to respirable crystalline silica increases the risk of developing lung cancer, in which abnormal cells grow uncontrollably into tumors, interfering with lung function and often metastasizing to other parts of the body. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) causes shortness of breath due to difficulty breathing air into the lungs. It is usually irreversible. Exposure to respirable crystalline silica is also related to kidney failure, the development of autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular impairment. 

Key Compliance Requirements

1910.1053 requires employers to: 

  • Determine the amount of silica that workers are exposed to if it is, or may reasonably be expected to be, at or above the action level of 25 μg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), averaged over an 8-hour day.
  • Protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposures above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 μg/m3, averaged over an 8-hour day.
  • Limit access to areas where workers could be exposed above the PEL. 
  • Use dust controls and safer work methods to protect workers from silica exposures above the PEL.
  • Provide respirators to workers when dust controls and safer work methods cannot limit exposures to the PEL. 
  • Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers.
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica, such as use of compressed air without a ventilation system to capture the dust and dry sweeping, where effective, safe alternatives are available.
  • 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. 
  • Train workers on the health effects of silica exposure, workplace tasks that can expose them to silica and ways to limit exposure. 
  • Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams. 


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