The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) Standards Board recently adopted an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for workplace exposure to silica. Airborne silica can be a serious health threat and can cause permanent disability or even death. Proper protective equipment, along with professionally managed occupational healthcare services such as respirator fit testing and silica exposure-related health screenings, are the tools for keeping workplaces safe and in compliance with regulatory requirements.
Noting nearly 100 deaths that are attributed to workplace silica exposures, the ETS applies to workers who are engaged in high-exposure tasks such as cutting, grinding, or polishing artificial or natural stone containing more than 10% crystalline silica. Artificial stone includes a variety of materials, including reconstituted, artificial, synthetic, and engineered stone, and includes products such as porcelain, manufactured stone, quartz, and similar items containing 93% or greater crystalline silica. For workplaces that engage in high-exposure tasks, a variety of environmental controls are required, such as constant dust suppression, posting of warning signs, and use of a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) or a respirator providing equal or greater protection may be required; the ETS contemplates consultation with a health care professional to assess the appropriate respirator protection level. The ETS also mandates airborne exposure testing in the work environment, along with a respirator fit testing program conducted under the supervision of a qualified professional. In addition, all affected workplaces must adopt a written exposure control plan and training standards to ensure compliance with the ETS requirements and best practices.
ETS are customarily adopted when CalOSHA identifies a new or emerging threat to worker safety that it believes requires an urgent response in lieu of using the normal process for proposing and establishing permanent regulations. The ETS took effect on December 29, 2023 and will remain in place for one year unless earlier repealed or modified. An employer fact sheet is available here.
Work Health Solutions offers a full host of services for all workplaces. With our innovative Fractional Medical Director program, we can provide the professional consultation required by the ETS in order to assess appropriate respiratory protection levels, implement and monitor respirator fitness testing programs, and assist in the development and monitoring of the legally required written exposure control plan. We also offer a complete range of occupational healthcare services, including respirator fit testing, silica exposure-related medical surveillance, and more. To find out more about the silica exposure ETS or to learn how you can leverage occupational healthcare best practices to enhance employee health and wellness while reducing occupational injury and disease-related costs, contact us today.