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Understanding OSHA’s New Silica Dust Ruling


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has significantly reduced the permissible exposure level (PEL) of silica dust to help protect over 2.3 million American workers currently exposed to respiratory crystalline silica dust in the workplace. According to over 50 peer reviewed studies, silica dust, a particle that is typically over 100 times smaller than sand, poses significant health and safety risks when inhaled, potentially leading to lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease. The final rule establishes a PEL of 50 ug/m3 as respirable crystalline silica, averaged over an 8-hour shift and an Action Level of 25 µg/m3 as respirable crystalline silica, averaged over an 8-hour shift.

Limiting exposure to this extremely fine particle is possible through the use of improved work practices, engineering controls, training and education. Abiding by these important regulations can help save an estimated 600 lives per year and prevent disease. Facilities are expected to be compliant with the new ruling soon. Is your facility ready?

Key dates:

  • September 23, 2017* – Requirements becomes effective for Construction 
  • June 23, 2018 – Requirements become effective for General Industry (Including Engineering Controls) 
  • June 23, 2018 – Medical surveillance required for employees above the PEL for 30 or more days 
  • June 23, 2020 – Medical surveillance required for employee above the Action Level for 30 or more days 
  • June 23, 2021 – Engineering controls to be in place (Applies to Fracking Industry Only)

*Extended from initial effective date of June 23, 2017. Read the official enforcement delay notice.

Understanding Silica Dust

Crystalline silica is naturally occurring. It is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals. Quartz, cristobalite, and tridymite are the three forms of crystalline silica. Quartz is the most common form, regularly found in a number of workplaces.

Silica becomes a very small, respirable particle when workers drill, cut, saw, blast, crush, grind, or chip objects that contain crystalline silica. The resulting dust is hazardous when inhaled, penetrating deep into the lungs and causing a number of very serious and sometimes fatal diseases.

Controlling Silica Dust Exposure

Through its new ruling, OSHA requires work practices and engineering controls to help limit silica dust exposure. In addition to operating the tools and machines that do the drilling, cutting, sawing, blasting, and the other processes that create respirable crystalline silica, exposure in the workplace can happen in a number of ways. If respirable crystalline silica is left on the ground it could become airborne by moving vehicles or people. Dry sweeping rather than wet sweeping could cause silica dust to become airborne, or dust that contains respirable crystalline silica might not be cleaned up properly leading to exposure. Employers help can limit exposure with new procedures and tools that help protect workers.

Work Practices

OSHA’s definition of work practices to control silica exposures include wetting down dust before sweeping it up or using the water flow rate recommended by the manufacturer for a tool with water controls.

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls that OSHA is advising include wetting down work operations or using local exhaust ventilation (such as vacuums) to keep silica-containing dust out of the air and out of workers’ lungs. Another control method that may work well is enclosing an operation (“process isolation”), according to OSHA.

Housekeeping Provisions

Improved housekeeping practices can help workers avoid unnecessary airborne crystalline silica exposure and reduce exposure levels where viable. OSHA’s new standard recommends housekeeping provisions to be established through wet sweeping, HEPA vacuuming, or other methods that minimize exposure to airborne crystalline silica.

Dust Control Measures

The key benefit to utilizing floor cleaning equipment in the workplace is dust control. Certain floor scrubber and sweeper solutions provided by Factory Cleaning Equipment, Inc. offer facilities dust control tools that meet OSHA requirements. Employing effective dust control measures can help limit exposure to silica dust in the workplace.

Wet sweeping is an effective method of limiting respirable crystalline silica exposure during housekeeping for most applications and can be achieved utilizing certain industrial grade floor sweepers. Our team of knowledgeable professionals can help guide you in determining which model of floor sweeper is OSHA compliant and best suited to meet your facility’s unique needs.

Other applications may need to utilize water flooding to help control silica dust exposure levels. This can be achieved through the use of certain industrial floor scrubbers.

Dry sweeping using a push broom creates airborne dust and is not recommended, however, dry sweeping utilizing industrial floor sweepers with HEPA filtration systems is OSHA approved where other methods are not viable.

Minimizing dust levels through housekeeping by utilizing the technological advances of modern floor cleaning equipment can help maintain air quality and mitigate respirable silica dust. To achieve OSHA compliance by the approaching deadline, employers covered by the standard must restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica dust where feasible alternatives are available and the floor cleaning solutions provided by Factory Cleaning Equipment are available to help.

Is my industry affected by silica dust exposure?

If your industry utilizes sand as part of the manufacturing process, it could have employees that are exposed to respirable crystalline silica. According to OSHA, the main industries affected include: 

  • Construction 
  • Glass manufacturing 
  • Pottery products 
  • Structural clay products 
  • Concrete products 
  • Foundries 
  • Dental laboratories 
  • Paintings and coatings 
  • Jewelry production 
  • Refractory products 
  • Landscaping 
  • Ready-mix concrete 
  • Cut stone and stone products 
  • Abrasive blasting in:

○     Maritime work

○     Construction

○     General industry 

  • Refractory furnace installation and repair 
  • Railroads
  •  Hydraulic fracturing for gas and oil 
  • Asphalt products manufacturing


Other Notable Requirements of the Ruling

After creating an initial exposure assessment, employers are required to form a written exposure control plan that describes exposure control methods being used. This written plan must identify specific tasks that involve exposure, explain how workers are protected, and the plan must be implemented by a designated, competent person. Workers are required to be trained to understand which tasks could result in exposure to silica dust. Any worker that is required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year must be offered medical exams that include chest X-rays and lung function tests. Records must be kept of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.

Additional Resources:

To learn more about OSHA’s new ruling on Silica Dust, visit OSHA.gov.

Read the Final Rule in its entirety on gpo.gov

Learn more about protecting workers on silica-safe.org

Learn more about OSHA Training Standards

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