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Cal/OSHA eyes emergency standard for stone worker exposure to silica

Photo: Bill Oxford/iStockphoto

Santa Ana, CA — California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health is “extremely motivated” to move forward on an emergency temporary standard on silica hazards for workers who handle engineered stone.

Speaking during a Sept. 20 agency update webinar hosted by the National Safety Council Divisions, Brandon Hart, program manager for communications and strategic planning at Cal/OSHA, said the agency hopes to submit the ETS to the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for a vote in early 2024.

Hart added that engineered stone, commonly used to make household countertops, “comprises nearly 90% crystalline silica, which is far more than just natural stone.”

Inhaling silica dust can damage lung tissue and lead to silicosis, defined by NIOSH as “an irreversible but preventable lung disease.” 

In a 2019 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spotlighted an increase in cases of silicosis among workers who handle engineered stone used for countertops. CDC called the issue “an emerging public health threat.”

The Cal/OSHA ETS would apply to all workplaces using engineered stone composed of more than 1% silica and:

  • Require a more stringent demarcation of areas of possible silica exposure and the use of respirators in those areas, while maintaining an existing provision for regulated areas.
  • Prohibit all fabrication activities that don’t use water to suppress dust.
  • Require employers to provide respiratory protection to workers fabricating engineered stone “in some situations where the existing regulation requires none, or more protective respiratory protection than workplace conditions require in others.”

As part of its Silica Special Emphasis Program, Cal/OSHA has sent letters to more than 1,000 employers whose facilities include work with natural or engineered stone countertops. The letters include an overview of the hazards of respirable silica dust and employer obligations to protect workers from them, employer requirements to report carcinogen use, and ways to contact agency consultation services for free technical assistance.

On Sept. 25, federal OSHA announced an initiative aimed at protecting workers in the engineered stone fabrication and installation industries from silica exposure.

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