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What exactly does the new Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica final rule mean for employers in terms of training? Who must be trained? On what precisely?

We’ll break it down for you here, and answer the most commonly asked questions.

Under the new rule, what do employees need to be trained on? 

First of all, OSHA says the training requirement for the new respirable crystalline silica final rule is performance-based. This means that during an OSHA inspection, compliance will be judged based on an employee’s ability to “perform,” or demonstrate knowledge of the new rules. (This is similar to how OSHA enforces the workplace container labeling rule under HazCom 2012. It doesn’t matter what’s on the container label . . . it matters how much your employee can tell the inspector about what’s inside the container.)

With this performance-based approach in mind, OSHA says that training should “ensure that each employee covered . . . can demonstrate knowledge and understanding of at least the following”:

  • “The health hazards associated with exposure to respirable crystalline silica”
  • “Specific tasks in the workplace that could result in exposure to respirable crystalline silica”
  • “Specific measures the employer has implemented to protect employees from exposure to respirable crystalline silica, including engineering controls, work practices, and respirators to be used”
  • “The purpose and a description of the medical surveillance program” intended to monitor workers for exposure to silica
  • The section of the rule immediately pertaining to either maritime and general industry workers, or to construction industry workers
  • Anything else you believe employees should be trained on in relation to respirable crystalline silica in your workplace

Workers in the construction industry must also be able to identify:

  • “The identity of the competent person designated by the employer”In short, OSHA is saying we don’t care exactly how you do it, but we want to see your employees being able to show that they can provide this basic information.Does OSHA give other hints as to what the training should involve, or how it should be conducted?

    Yes, in a limited way. OSHA makes clear that it is giving employers considerable latitude in the training method(s) because 1.) compliance is performance-based, and 2.) OSHA believes “the employer is in the best position to determine how the training can most effectively be accomplished.”

    However, in the text of the rule, OSHA does suggest that “Hands-on training, videotapes, slide presentations, classroom instruction, informal discussions during safety meetings, written materials, or any combination of these methods may be appropriate.”

    The only hard and fast requirement is that employees must be able to ask questions. OSHA says these questions can be answered live, as the training happens, or at a later time.

    As OSHA puts it:

    “. . . to ensure that employees comprehend the material presented during training, it is critical that trainees have the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers if they do not fully understand the material that is presented to them. OSHA reiterates that when videotape presentations or computer-based programs are used, this requirement may be met by having a qualified trainer available to address questions after the presentation, or providing a telephone hotline so that trainees will have direct access to a qualified trainer. Although it is important that employees be able to ask questions, OSHA finds that the employer is in the best position to determine whether an instructor must be available for questions during training or if a trainer can answer questions after the training session.”

    Does OSHA give any hints about how long they expect an appropriate training on respirable crystalline silica to take?

    Yes. In the final rule, OSHA says it expects “that a full hour of training, on average, will be required for all covered workers.”


    Does OSHA realize this training will likely involve additional expense on my part?

    Yes. In the rule, OSHA estimates that, nationally, companies will spend approximately $100 million on satisfying the training component associated with the new rule. For perspective, OSHA puts total compliance expenses for the new rule at about $1.05 billion.

    What should I do if an employee asks to read the silica rule?

    According to OSHA, employers must make a copy of the section of the rule pertaining to employee safety (not the entire rule) “readily available without cost to each employee covered.”

    There is no hard and fast timeline given for how quickly this copy must be provided. Consider what an OSHA inspector might find reasonable, and use your best judgement.

    Does this rule revise or replace our previous training that covered silica dust?

    Essentially, OSHA says that all the previous regulations covering silica dust are still in effect. This new rule only adds to them, expanding rules for environments with large amounts of respirable crystalline silica.

    OSHA emphasizes that the previous rules covering silica — such as those found in the HCS — are still in effect even though they may not be repeated in the new silica rule.

    According to OSHA: “The HCS also requires employers to train employees on the methods and observations that may be used to detect the presence or release of a hazardous chemical in the work area; in the case of respirable crystalline silica, this could include a description of the employer’s exposure assessments methods (e.g., objective assessments, personal breathing zone air sampling, direct readings of respirable dust) and warnings that visible dust emissions might indicate a problem. Because employers must meet the requirements of the HCS, OSHA does not find it necessary to repeat the training requirements of that standard in their entirety in the respirable crystalline silica rule.”

    So OSHA is saying that even though you might not see all the previous requirements in the new rule, they’re still in effect.

    Do I have to keep a record of which employees have been trained?

    Technically, no — but it’s probably a good idea.

    According to OSHA: “The respirable crystalline silica rule does not require employers to keep training records. . . because employers must instead ensure that employees demonstrate knowledge and understanding of training subjects.”

    Essentially, OSHA is telling us that because compliance is performance-based, they care about employees showing evidence of having been trained, not whether or not there is a record of a training session having happened.

    That said, you may still want to track employee training for yourself, so you can be sure that all your employees have been trained. (A seamless, cloud-based training tracking tool can be invaluable for this.)

    What language(s) do I have to use for the training?

    OSHA says the silica rule training must be presented:

  • In a language the employee understands
  • Using words and terms “at a level of understanding” that the employee comprehends (i.e.: avoiding terms that are too technical or over-the-heads of workers)
  • Without relying on written training materials if employees cannot read

OSHA is very clear about these three requirements. As OSHA head Dr. David Michaels himself spells out in a quotation in the final rule:

“. . . an employer must instruct its employees using both a language and vocabulary that the employees can understand. For example, if an employee does not speak or comprehend English, instruction must be provided in a language that the employee can understand. Similarly, if the employee’s vocabulary is limited, the training must account for that limitation. By the same token, if employees are not literate, telling them to read training materials will not satisfy the employer’s training obligation.”

Who precisely do I have to train?

You have to train all workers whose workplaces are covered by the silica rule.

OSHA spells out that this “applies to newly hired workers who would require training before starting work, workers who change jobs within their current workplace or are assigned new tasks or exposure protection, and any covered worker an employer believes needs additional training.”

I’ve heard some workplaces are exempt from the rule if they have lower-levels of silica dust. Does this mean they’re also exempt from the new training requirements?

It’s true that employers who have established that the silica in their workplaces stays beneath certain levels are exempt from the new silica rule (though not from the HCS).

According to OSHA, the rule does not apply in general industry and maritime where the employer has “objective data” demonstrating that employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica will remain below 25 micrograms per cubic meter as an 8-hour time-weighted average “under any foreseeable conditions” and does not apply in construction where employee exposure will remain below 25 micrograms per cubic meter as an 8-hour time-weighted average under any foreseeable conditions.

These businesses are exempt from the new rule, and thus also from the training portion.

However, OSHA says that when these reduced exposure levels are achieved through engineering controls, then the exemption does not apply. OSHA explains its reasoning thusly:

“OSHA intends the requirements for training on control measures, housekeeping, and other ancillary provisions of the rule to apply where engineering controls are used to limit exposures. Without effective training on use of engineering controls, for example, it is unreasonable to expect that such controls will be used properly and consistently. Thus, the exception does not apply where exposures below 25 mg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA are expected or achieved, but only because engineering or other controls are being used to limit exposures; in that circumstance, but for the controls, exposures above 25 mg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA would be foreseeable, and are foreseeable in the event of control failure or misuse.”

What can you tell me about the “competent person” requirement for the construction industry?  You mentioned it earlier.

For companies in the construction industry, their version of the silica rule involves a designated competent person (or, for large worksites, competent people) who play(s) a central role in training.

Under the new rule, the competent person will function as a sort of subject matter expert for respirable crystalline silica. The competent person does not necessarily conduct training of other workers himself or herself. However, the business will be responsible for conducting such trainings as are necessary to produce these competent persons.

Here are the requirements for this “competent person” as relates to training, as taken from the rule:

  • “OSHA defines competent person as an individual who is capable of identifying existing and foreseeable respirable crystalline silica hazards in the workplace and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate or minimize them.”
  • “OSHA expects that most employers will have training programs in place to produce competent persons, and the cost of training someone will only be a relatively small marginal increase in the overall training cost.”
  •  “OSHA estimates that, on average, there will be 1 competent person for each establishment with fewer than 20 employees, 5 competent persons for each establishment with 20–499 employees, and 10 competent persons for each establishment with 500 or more employees.”
  •  “OSHA is requiring that employers covered by the standard for construction notify employees about the identity of the competent person”
  • Competent persons don’t have to be managers or supervisors
  • Competent persons should be in charge of determining when workers need to be re-trained on silica safety
  • Competent persons should help identify any unique aspects of a particular worksite on which employees should be trained
  • “A[n OSHA] compliance officer could ascertain whether the employer is in compliance with the competent person requirement by asking questions to assess whether the competent person has adequate knowledge to perform his or her duties, such as an understanding of engineering controls and how to recognize if they are not functioning properly.”
  • “The employer is responsible for determining that a competent person is adequately trained and knowledgeable to perform his or her duties.”

Obviously, OSHA is expecting that competent persons should be very familiar with the requirements of the respirable crystalline silica standard. When selecting your candidates for competent persons, it’s probably a good idea to look for a proactive individual, who not only understands the silica rules, but who can help explain them to others.

How could a cloud-based chemical management solution help me satisfy these training requirements, and make complying easier?

A set of robust training solutions offered by VelocityEHS can deploy nearly 100 expert-reviewed trainings seamlessly across your entire company, including courses on Respiratory Protection Training and PPE that can serve as a solid foundation for training on respirable crystalline silica safety. You can also upload your own custom-created trainings to our system.

Likewise, a Training Management solution from VelocityEHS can help you quickly track and report on who has been trained across your organization, when they were trained, and on what. Managers can seamlessly access at-a-glance records of where their employees stand on meeting training requirements, and can reduce operational risk from potential missed deadlines. Automatic notification functions make it easy to remember when it’s time to train (to retrain), and this helps create an automatic culture of ongoing safety responsibility.