(Source: Jackson Lewis by Sean Paisan – July 25, 2023)

On July 20, 2023, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board approved declaring an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for Respirable Crystalline Silica (silica). The Silica ETS will require the fabricated stone industry to protect its employees from silica exposure. According to Cal/OSHA, engineered stone, which is cut to create countertops in home construction, is much cheaper than natural alternatives, but contains more than 90% silica.

In early 2023, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board received a petition from the Western Occupational and Environment Medical Association (WOEMA) for an amendment to the General Safety Orders pertaining to silica. The request was for an amendment via ETS to address an increase in the number of reported cases of advanced silicosis among workers exposed to silica in engineered fabrication shops.

In WOEMA’s petition, they requested an ETS with the following elements:

  • Applies to workplaces using engineered stone with a high silica content of greater than 50%.
  • Regulated areas to limit employee access to areas where artificial stone is fabricated.
  • Prohibition on fabrication without the use of water to suppress dust.
  • Requirement for airline respirators or power air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) for all work involving fabrication of artificial stone.
  • Annual documentation indicating that the employer has sent a letter to the Cal/OSHA Occupational Carcinogen Control Unit reporting the use of RCS, as required by section 5203 “Carcinogen Report of Use Requirements.”
  • Strengthened penalty structure so violations of the ETS result in citations classified as serious.
  • Updated guidance prepared by Cal/OSHA with information on computerized tomography (CT) exams and other diagnostic studies.
  • Reporting requirement for physicians or other licensed health care professionals (PLHCP) to inform Cal/OSHA of any silicosis diagnoses of moderate severity or worse.

In deciding to move forward with a Silica ETS, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board is essentially disregarding its own staff evaluation, which concluded that many of the proposed provisions are already contained in the existing Standard. The staff recommended denial of adopting an ETS, but instead request Cal/OSHA consider reviewing and updating the Standard as needed. Instead, the Board adopted the proposed petition. It is anticipated that the Silica ETS will be drafted over the next several months.

If you have questions about the Silica ETS and what this means for the fabricated stone industry, our workplace safety, labor law, and human resource experts here at CalWorkSafety & HR can help. Contact us today.