Seyfarth Synopsis: The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that OSHA has launched a new initiative focused on enhancing enforcement and providing compliance assistance to protect workers from the hazards of silica.

Exposure to crystalline silica dust above recognized permissible exposure limits can result in severe lung disease, including incurable silicosis. The United States Department of Labor has actively addressed exposure to silica dust for more than 80 years, and a General Industry Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard went into effect on June 23, 2018. Under that standard and OSHA's interpretations, employers must use administrative or engineering controls whenever feasible to eliminate exposures to silica dust.

Crystalline silica and engineered stone have been an area of emphasis for occupational safety and health agencies' recently, with California advancing a petition to issue emergency revisions to its existing silica regulations. The stone industry has engaged in an unprecedented good faith campaign in collaboration with Cal/OSHA to target resources at fabricators engaging in the dry cutting of stone, which the data shows is the major cause of airborne crystalline silica exposures above the action level. The industry has strongly supported (1) the elimination of dry fabrication methods; (2) strict adherence to existing regulations, including effective wet-cutting methods; and (3) comprehensive education for both fabricators and workers regarding the potential hazards associated with dry-cutting processes. Seyfarth Workplace Safety Partner Adam R. Young provided critical testimony before the Cal/OSHA Standards Commission regarding key elements of the petition.

On September 22, 2023, federal OSHA issued a memorandum to its regional administrators as well as to state plan designees following California's lead, even citing to many of the anecdotes that drove California's new rulemaking. One key distinction between the federal and California efforts is that federal OSHA will not take on new rulemaking, but instead will base its enforcement initiative on its currently-applicable silica regulations. A second significant difference is that California appears to be targeting broader range of employer NAICS codes, including, e.g., brick wholesalers.

Industry organizations have indicated the desire to work cooperatively with federal OSHA and state workplace safety agencies to ensure all fabrication shops use effective wet-cutting methods and end non-compliant, dry-cutting practices, thereby eliminating dust and protecting employees.

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