Health Alert: Respirable Crystalline Silica

Original article published by MSHA

PDF icon health-hazard-alert-silicadust .pdf

Silicosis is a disabling, nonreversible, and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by overexposure to respirable crystalline silica.

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Best Practices:

What can Metal/Nonmetal and Coal Mine Operators do to prevent silicosis?

1.    Perform air monitoring of worksites.  Monitoring will determine:

  • effectiveness of engineering controls
  • need for additional work practices to reduce dust levels; and
  • proper respiratory protection needed

2.    Install and maintain engineering controls to reduce the amount of silica in the air. Examples of controls include:

  • exhaust ventilation
  • increase face ventilation: both velocity and quantity
  • dry dust collection systems
  • water sprays
  • wet drilling or suppression
  • supply vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters; and
  • enclosed cabs

3.    Administrative controls are the second line of defense for minimizing silica exposures. These controls include:

  • practice preventative maintenance:  clean and maintain equipment
  • practice good housekeeping: don’t dry sweep to clean up
  • use wet cleaning methods, or vacuums with HEPA filters to remove dust from floors and surfaces; and
  • train miners about engineering controls and work practices that reduce dust, and the importance of maintenance and good housekeeping

4.    Provide miners with appropriately selected, properly fitted, and NIOSH approved respirators, as engineering controls are installed or updated.

  • make sure respirators are kept clean and properly maintained and that miners are trained in their use

A comprehensive source of dust controls and practices can be found at:

McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

MSHA ‘actively working’ on a proposed rule on silica, Williamson says

Original article published by Safety + Health
Photo: US Department of Labor

Arlington, VA — The Mine Safety and Health Administration is “actively working” toward publishing a proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica, agency administrator Chris Williamson said Oct. 20.

The Department of Labor’s Spring 2022 regulatory agenda – published in June – showed MSHA’s intent to publish in September a notice of proposed rulemaking on silica. During a conference call for agency stakeholders, Williamson didn’t offer an updated timetable during the call but said the rule “is one of the top priorities” at the agency.

“Right now in this country, there’s only one worker population that does not have a certain level of protection when it comes to silica, and that is miners. Right now, under our existing standards, the permissible exposure limit (100 micrograms per cubic meter of air) is double what every other worker in this country has. So I just want to put that out there, that people know that’s the reality. We’re working very hard on an improved health standard that we think will make a difference and will definitely better protect miners.”

During the call, MSHA Chief of Health Gregory Meikle cited NIOSH-supported data that contends silica dust can be up to 20 times more toxic than other dusts. Meikle called on stakeholders to tailor existing best practices toward their individual mines and mine activities.

“Some of the levels we’re seeing on overexposures, we’ve got to get proactive if we’re going to protect miners,” Meikle said.

McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

MSHA administrator to miners and operators: Be proactive on preventing silica exposure

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication


Photo: US Department of Labor

Arlington, VA — As the Mine Safety and Health Administration works toward publishing a proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica, agency administrator Chris Williamson is encouraging mine workers and operators to “take proactive measures” to assess silica-related health hazards.

The Department of Labor’s Spring 2022 regulatory agenda, published June 21, shows MSHA’s intent to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking on silica in September. Speaking during a June 28 conference call for industry stakeholders, Williamson called for forward-thinking and action within the mining community in the interim.

OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust annually. Workers can inhale silica dust during mining and other operations, including cutting, sawing, drilling or crushing materials such as rock and stone. Crystalline silica can damage lung tissue and lead to lung disease, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or incurable silicosis.

“When miners are repeatedly overexposed to silica levels that are unhealthy, that’s how you develop these diseases,” Williamson said. “Once a miner develops a form of pneumoconiosis, outside of getting a lung transplant, there’s no fix for that. It’s a progressive illness.”

In June, MSHA launched an enforcement initiative intended to increase protections against respirable crystalline silica. Measures include conducting spot inspections at coal and nonmetal mines “with a history of repeated silica overexposures,” expanding sampling at mines, and offering compliance assistance to mine operators.

MSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations Patricia Silvey said during the call that the enforcement initiative is “not meant to be, ‘Gotcha!’”

“It’s not meant to be punitive,” she continued. “It’s really meant to be proactive and remedial, and try to get corrective action … before we even show up.”

A fatality number that ‘really jumps out’

MSHA reported that eight of the 15 fatal on-the-job injuries among miners to date this year have involved workers with one year or less of experience at the mine.

“Whenever we see a number like this, it really jumps out at us and we really want to make sure that training is what it needs to be,” Marcus Smith, chief of MSHA’s Accident Investigations Division, said during the call.

Agency officials discussed several related best practices, including training personnel to:

  • Perform tasks safely and recognize potential hazards.
  • Recognize hazardous highwall conditions.
  • Recognize fall hazards and use fall protection when they exist.
  • Identify hazardous roof and rib conditions.

McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

MSHA takes action to reduce miners’ exposure to silica dust as work continues on an improved health standard

First published by MSHA

MSHA launched unprecedented effort to protect miners
from serious illnesses such as black lung disease, silicosis

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has launched a new enforcement initiative to better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards resulting from repeated overexposure to respirable crystalline silica. MSHA reports silica dust affects thousands of miners each year and, without adequate protection, miners face risks of serious illnesses, many of which can be fatal.

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth’s crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete and mortar contain crystalline silica. Respirable crystalline silica – minute particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary beach sand – becomes airborne during cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone and rock.

Without proper protections and engineering controls in place, miners can be exposed to dangerous levels of crystalline silica particles, which increases their risk of developing serious silica-related diseases. These conditions include incurable lung diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly referred to as “black lung;” progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung; silicosis; lung and other cancers; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and kidney disease.

“Simply put, protecting miners from unhealthy levels of silica cannot wait,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “We are committed to using every tool in MSHA’s toolbox to protect miners from developing debilitating and deadly lung diseases that are entirely preventable. We have seen too many miners carrying oxygen tanks and struggling to breathe just to take a few steps or do the simplest of tasks after having their lungs destroyed by toxic levels of respirable dust.”

“Our agency is working hard and is committed to issuing a silica rule that will enhance health protections for all miners. The enforcement initiative that we are announcing today is a step we can take now while we continue the rulemaking process toward the development of an improved mandatory health standard,” Williamson added.

As part of the program, MSHA will conduct silica dust-related mine inspections and expand silica sampling at mines, while providing mine operators with compliance assistance and best practices to limit miners’ exposure to silica dust.

Specifically, the silica enforcement initiative will include:

  • Spot inspections at coal and metal nonmetal mines with a history of repeated silica overexposures to closely monitor and evaluate health and safety conditions.
  • Increased oversight and enforcement of known silica hazards at mines with previous citations for exposing miners to silica dust levels over the existing permissible exposure limit of 100 micrograms. For metal and nonmetal mines where the operator has not timely abated hazards, MSHA will issue a 104(b) withdrawal order until the silica overexposure hazard has been abated. For coal mines, MSHA will encourage changes to dust control and ventilation plans to address known health hazards.
  • Expanded silica sampling at metal and nonmetal mines to ensure inspectors’ samples represent the mines, commodities, and occupations known to have the highest risk for overexposure.
  • A focus on sampling during periods of the mining process that present the highest risk of silica exposure for miners. For coal mines, those processes include shaft and slope sinking, extended cuts and developing crosscuts, while metal and nonmetal sampling will focus on miners working to remove overburden.
  • Reminding miners about their rights to report hazardous health conditions, including any attempt to tamper with the sampling process.

In addition, Educational Field and Small Mine Services staff will provide compliance assistance and outreach to mine operators, unions and other mining community organizations to promote and advance protections for miners.

The recently launched MSHA initiative is intended to take immediate action to reduce the risks of silica dust exposure as the department’s development of a mining industry standard continues.

Silica Enforcement Initiative 

McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

Research review strengthens link between sarcoidosis, workplace exposures

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

Toronto — Findings over the past decade – including the results of case studies in the past two to three years – have strengthened the link between the lung disease sarcoidosis and on-the-job exposures to, most notably, silica and silicates, dust from the World Trade Center, and metals, according to a recent research review.

Conducted by a pair of Canadian researchers, the review of epidemiologic studies includes a Swedish study of nearly 11,000 workers that showed respirable crystalline silica exposure among concrete workers, miners, casters, masons, and ceramic and glass manufacturers led to an increased risk of sarcoidosis, described by the National Institutes of Health as “an inflammatory disease characterized by the development and growth of tiny lumps of cells called granulomas,” which, if they clump together in an organ, “can lead to permanent scarring or thickening of the organ tissue.”

A nearly twofold disease risk increase was discovered in a study of almost 298,000 Swedish construction workers with medium to high silica exposure. Among Swedish iron foundry workers with high exposure to silica, researchers observed a higher risk for both sarcoidosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

A study of New York City firefighters showed that cases of a sarcoid-like pulmonary disease occurred at a rate of 12.9 cases per 100,000 workers from 1985 to 1998. In the 12 months after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, that rate rose to 86 cases per 100,000 workers.

Although the two researchers note that not all sarcoidosis cases have an identified cause, recognizing occupational causes is important. When the cause of the disease is work-related, the duo says its recognition is critical “to enable effective treatment through the removal of the affected worker from exposure and to inform intervention aimed at primary prevention.”

The researchers also note that because of a more firm link to on-the-job exposures, the practice of assigning sarcoidosis cases as idiopathic by default should be discontinued.

The study was published online June 5 in the journal CHEST.

McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

Michigan OSHA launches emphasis program on silica

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

Lansing, MI — Michigan OSHA intends to conduct inspections at jobsites where workers are most likely to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica, as part of the agency’s recently launched state emphasis program aimed at reducing exposure to silica and preventing silicosis.

Silica is a carcinogen found in sand, stone and artificial stone. MIOSHA’s 12-month emphasis program, announced in the agency’s Fall 2020 online newsletter, includes outreach to affected industries to consult, educate and train employers and the public about the dangers of silica.

MIOSHA has compiled a list of industries with historically high silica exposures and a prevalence of silicosis cases. Establishments on the list could get an unannounced investigation visit to ensure compliance with federal and MIOSHA standards.

The agency has a goal of completing 88 inspections – 2% of the total number of inspections conducted in fiscal year 2019. This matches the goal set by federal OSHA for each of its regions in its national emphasis program, announced Feb. 4.

The agency is offering consultative audits to help establishments identify silica hazards. The audits will help employers develop and implement a comprehensive safety and health system as well as silica exposure monitoring.

Federal OSHA notes that 2.3 million workers nationwide are exposed to silica. When inhaled, these tiny particles – the product of cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, blocks and mortar – increase the risk of serious silica-related diseases such as silicosis, an incurable lung disease. Workers exposed to silica are also at risk for kidney disease, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

Please contact us today at 888-758-4757 to learn how we can provide mine safety training and consulting for your business.

New OSHA directive details enforcement of silica standards


Image: simazoran/iStockphoto

Washington — Seeking “uniformity” in the enforcement of its silica standards, OSHA has published an instructional directive for its compliance safety and health officers.

Dated June 25, the directive outlines inspection procedures for addressing respirable crystalline silica exposures in general industry, maritime and construction. The directive guides OSHA inspectors on the enforcement of the silica standards’ requirements, which include:

  • Methods of compliance
  • Exposure assessments
  • Table 1 tasks and specified exposure control methods
  • Housekeeping
  • Communication of hazards
  • Respiratory protection
  • Regulated areas
  • Recordkeeping
  • Employee information and training
  • Medical surveillance

“The directive also provides clarity on major topics, such as alternative exposure control methods when a construction employer does not fully and properly implement Table 1, variability in sampling, multiemployer situations, and temporary workers,” a June 26 agency press release states.

The standards call for a permissible exposure limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour time-weighted average. As of June 23, general industry and maritime employers must offer medical surveillance to all employees who are exposed to the silica standard’s “action level” of 25 micrograms per cubic meter for 30 or more days a year.

Hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry have until June 23, 2021, to comply with OSHA requirements for the standard’s engineering controls.

Union leaders call for new MSHA silica standard

Image: NIOSH

Washington — Alarmed by a recent spike in cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, a deadly but preventable condition commonly known as black lung, union presidents Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers of America and Leo Gerard of United Steelworkers have sent a letter to Mine Safety and Health Administration leader David Zatezalo requesting stricter regulation of respirable silica dust.

In the letter, dated June 19, Roberts and Gerard cite extensive research documenting the impact of silica dust exposure on the resurgence of black lung. One study, released by the University of Illinois at Chicago in May 2018, found that more than 4,600 coal miners have developed the most severe form of black lung disease since 1970, with almost half the cases emerging after 2000.

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