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The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board just approved an emergency temporary standard on respirable crystalline silica to protect workers from silicosis. The standard will go into effect on December 29, 2023.

Cal/OSHA proposed the emergency temporary standard to protect workers in the stone fabrication industry from silicosis. Workers who breathe in silica particles can develop silicosis – an incurable, progressive disease that causes serious and fatal health effects. The workers most at risk are those who cut artificial stone countertops.

The California Department of Public Health has identified 95 cases of workers developing silicosis since 2019, 10 of whom have died from the disease.

The emergency temporary standard includes important requirements to protect workers engaged in high-exposure tasks such as cutting, grinding, polishing and cleanup of artificial stone containing more than 0.1% crystalline silica and natural stone containing more than 10% crystalline silica.

Employers will be required to implement the following new protections when workers perform these tasks:

  • Methods of Compliance
    • Use wet methods without exception.
    • Properly handle all waste materials.
    • Monitor air to confirm respirable crystalline silica levels are below the action level.
    • Do not:
      • Use compressed air.
      • Dry sweep.
      • Allow employees or equipment to move through dust.
      • Rotate employees to reduce exposure.
  • Respiratory Protection
    • Use a full-face, tight-fitting, powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), or equally protective alternative.
    • Use an organic vapor cartridge for artificial stonework, with certain exceptions.
    • Use a supplied air respirator under certain conditions.
  • Housekeeping
    • Employ safe clean-up methods without exception.
  • Communicating with Employees
    • Ensure training and information is appropriate for the language and literacy of employees.
    • Include text pertaining to permanent lung damage and death in English and Spanish on signs posted at regulated areas.
    • Train employees on symptoms of respirable crystalline silica exposure and how to prevent exposures.
    • Encourage reporting of symptoms of respirable crystalline silica exposure without fear of retaliation.
  • Exposure Assessment
    • Conduct exposure monitoring at least every 12 months to assess the effectiveness of exposure controls.
  • Regulated Areas
    • Conduct all “high-exposure trigger tasks” in a clearly designated area with signage warning of respirable crystalline silica hazards.
  • Imminent Hazards
    • Cal/OSHA must issue an Order Prohibiting Use (OPU) when dry operations are observed.
    • Cal/OSHA may issue an OPU when violations are found related to prohibited activities, respiratory protection, reporting of silicosis and carcinogen reporting.
  • Silicosis Reporting
    • Employers must report employees with confirmed silicosis or lung cancer to Cal/OSHA and CDPH.
    • Healthcare providers contracted by employers to evaluate their employees must report confirmed silicosis cases to Cal/OSHA.

Complete details on the emergency temporary standards are posted on Cal/OSHA’s website.