National Emphasis Program for Respirable Crystalline Silica-June 2022

Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) has been recognized for centuries as the cause of Silicosis, an incurable lung disease that leads to disability and death. RCS also causes lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease. Exposure to RCS is related to the development of autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular impairment. 
The Labor Department began regulating exposure to RCS in the 1930s and OSHA set exposure limits in the 1970s. Because of continued Silicosis cases, OSHA established a National Emphasis Program (NEP) in 2008. National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) are temporary programs that focus OSHA’s resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries. These industries are evaluated based on inspection, injury, and illness data, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports, and other resources
In 2016, OSHA enacted Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) standards, one for general industry and maritime 1910.1053 and another for construction 1926.1153,  and began enforcing them in 2018. In keeping with the new standards, a new NEP was also established. Since the original NEP, OSHA has conducted inspections, published resource materials, and conducted outreach programs to better inform employers about their requirements. Despite these efforts, many employers have not complied with the standards, especially those in high hazard industries. In 2020, OSHA issued new instructions for enforcement by compliance officers. A combination of inspections, outreach to employers, and compliance assistance is required. Inspections are targeted towards industries and worksites where RCS overexposures may occur. 
Exposures to employees covered by 1910.1053, should be evaluated by personal air monitoring. Those in construction should be evaluated by personal air sampling or by following Table 1 in 1926.1153. Under the NEP program, employers can find resources on how to best comply with these standards and better protect their workers. OSHA has a series of free Silica videos for all covered industries that can be downloaded from the web site. There is a free Small Business On-Site Consultation Program that can help employers comply with these and other standards. OSHA publishes Safety and Health Topics including one on RCS. There are also directives and letters of interpretation that can be found on the OSHA site. OSHA Training Institute Education Centers are located around the country and can provide training in RCS and many other safety and health topics. 
Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica can cause life-altering and debilitating illness that annually affect thousands of workers. Employees should be protected from exposure to RCS. Compliance with the OSHA standards and the use of resources provided by the OSHA National Emphasis Program allows employers to do so.

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