The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a final rule to curb lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in America’s workers by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica. 29 C.F.R. section §1926.1153. The rule is comprised of two standards, one for Construction and one for General Industry and Maritime. This rule will be enforced by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI). Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in many naturally occurring and man-made materials used at construction sites. Materials like sand, concrete, brick, block, stone and mortar contain crystalline silica. Amorphous silica, such as silica gel, is not crystalline silica.  Respirable crystalline silica — very small particles typically at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand found on beaches or playgrounds — is generated by high-energy operations like cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling and crushing stone, rock, concrete, brick, block and mortar, or when abrasive blasting with sand.


The standard applies to all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica in construction work, except where employee exposure will remain below 25 μg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) under any foreseeable conditions. According to OSHA, exposures to respirable crystalline silica occur when the following tools are used on concrete, brick, block, stone, mortar, and other materials that contain crystalline silica:

Stationary masonry saws;

Handheld power saws;

Walk-behind saws;

Drivable saws;

Rig-mounted core saws or drills;

Handheld and stand-mounted drills (including impact and rotary hammer drills);

Dowel drilling rigs;

Vehicle-mounted drilling rigs;

Jackhammers and handheld powered chipping tools;

Handheld grinders;

Walk-behind milling machines and floor grinders;

Drivable milling machines;

Crushing machines; and

Heavy equipment and utility vehicles when used to abrade or fracture silica-containing materials (such as hoe-ramming or rock ripping) or during demolition activities, and for tasks such as grading and excavating.

Exposures to respirable crystalline silica may also occur during tunneling operations and during abrasive blasting when sand or other blasting agents containing crystalline silica are used, or when abrasive blasting is performed on substrates that contain crystalline silica, such as concrete.

Key Provisions

-Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.

-Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan; offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.

-Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.

-Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.

Compliance Schedule

Both standards contained in the final rule took effect on June 23, 2016, after which industries had one to five years to comply with most requirements, based on the following schedule:

Construction – June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date. The Small Entity Compliance Guide — Construction is available at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3902.pdf.