The OSHA final rule governing respirable crystalline silica calls for employers in general industry and maritime to create regulated areas in order to limit employees’ exposure to silica dust in the workplace.
But what exactly is a regulated area? Who can go in or out of it? What happens inside?
In this entry, we’ll try to answer common questions related to this requirement.
In what situations do I need to create a regulated area?
According to the rule, an employer has to establish an onsite regulated area “wherever an employee's exposure to airborne concentrations of respirable crystalline silica is, or can reasonably be expected to be, in excess of the PEL.” As you’ll recall, the new rule reduced the PEL for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift. (The previous limit for general industry was 100 micrograms.)
OSHA says the goal of the regulated areas is threefold:
- “alerting employees to the presence of respirable crystalline silica at levels above the PEL”
- “restricting the number of people potentially exposed to respirable crystalline silica at levels above the PEL”
- “ensuring that those who must be exposed are properly protected”
What does a regulated area need to “look like”?
OSHA is somewhat open on this point, but does provide a few essential requirements.
First of all, regulated areas have to be demarcated “from the rest of the workplace in a manner that minimizes the number of employees exposed to respirable crystalline silica.” This likely means that an OSHA inspector will want to see that your demarcation (signage, borders, physical divisions, etc.) makes it very clear where the regulated areas are, and that unauthorized entry to them is not appropriate.
OSHA also says that a sign must be posted at the entrance(s) to each regulated area reading:
RESPIRABLE CRYSTALLINE SILICA
MAY CAUSE CANCER
CAUSES DAMAGE TO LUNGS
WEAR RESPIRATORY PROTECTION IN THIS AREA
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY
No part of this GHS-aligned language is negotiable.
What does OSHA want to see inside the regulated area?
The short answer is respirators and engineering controls.
The final rule states: “The employer shall provide each employee and the employee’s designated representative entering a regulated area with an appropriate respirator” and also “require each employee and the employee's designated representative to use the respirator while in a regulated area.”
In addition, the final rule orders that engineering and work practice controls be used to reduce the levels of silica within the regulated area as much as possible. As the rule phrases it:
The employer shall use engineering and work practice controls to reduce and maintain employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica to or below the PEL, unless the employer can demonstrate that such controls are not feasible. Wherever such feasible engineering and work practice controls are not sufficient to reduce employee exposure to or below the PEL, the employer shall nonetheless use them to reduce employee exposure to the lowest feasible level and shall supplement them with the use of respiratory protection . . .
Essentially, OSHA is saying that it’s not okay to conclude: “This place has high respirable crystalline silica, and we’ll need to make it a regulated area, so let’s just not worry about reducing the silica level inside.” You still have to show that you’ve used engineering controls to get the silica levels as low as you can get them. OSHA says it’s okay if this level is still in excess of the PEL, but it wants to see that you have still made best efforts to reduce it as much as you can.
Who can enter the regulated area?
OSHA says three groups of people can enter a regulated area.
- “Persons authorized by the employer and required by work duties to be present in the regulated area”
- Persons who are “exercising the right to observe [silica exposure] monitoring procedures”
- Anyone explicitly authorized by OSHA to be in a regulated area (like an OSHA inspector)
Persons not falling into these categories should not enter a regulated area.
Why isn’t the construction industry covered by the regulated area requirement?
OSHA seems to believe that unique requirements of the silica rule that apply to the construction industry will serve the same purpose and be as effective in protecting construction workers as the regulated area requirement.
As the rule puts it: “Similarly [to the regulated area protections], the competent person requirement in the construction standard will protect bystanders by restricting access to work areas only when necessary, benefiting those bystanders through reduced exposures.”
Elsewhere in the final rule, OSHA says that it expects the written exposure control plan to help serve the function of the regulated areas in the construction industry.
However, there is also room to conjecture that OSHA has concluded that a regulated area requirement would not be completely feasible for some construction situations. For example, the final rule notes that “OSHA does not have a regulated area requirement in construction where workplaces (such as in road building or repair) are more mobile.”
How much time does OSHA expect me to spend putting a regulated area together?
OSHA says it expects a supervisor to take about seven hours per regulated area to comply with all requirements. OSHA further estimates that once every year, a supervisor will need to devote another hour to reviewing any changes or updates that might need to be made to the regulated area.
How much should I expect this to cost me?
OSHA estimates that each employer should expect to spend about $650 per regulated area. This figure includes personnel-hours, and material costs for signage and boundary markers.
What if I operate an open-air or open-design facility, where demarcating or cordoning-off a regulated area will be difficult?
OSHA seems unsympathetic to this problem, and says that you still need to find a way to create a regulated area.
As OSHA responds in the final rule: “Regulated area requirements have been a part of OSHA health standards for many years and employers have consistently found ways to make them work. The Agency does not expect that establishing a regulated area for silica would be any more difficult than establishing such an area for any of the other substances for which OSHA has regulated area requirements.”
Are there tools in the marketplace to help me with the regulated areas requirement?
Yes. VelocityEHS cloud-based EHS management software can provide a central platform from which to manage your EHS responsibilities, and address worksite locations hazards that represent institutional risk like regulated areas. Our solutions give you the tools to document, track, and report all of the information surrounding regulated areas in your workplace including authorized personnel lists, site entry logs, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, engineering controls in place, You can track and analyze employee tasks that qualify them to enter regulated areas, and audits & inspections required to demonstrate compliance with regulated area standards.
VelocityEHS On-Demand Training and Training Management solutions help you to promote hazard awareness in regulated areas, provide expert instruction to employees on proper use of PPE, and ensure that authorized personnel possess the training necessary to limit exposure and comply with OSHA training standards. Administrative features allow you to quickly and easily notify employees when and where regulated areas are established, who is authorized to access those areas, and create automatic reminders when regulated areas must be re-evaluated for compliance with OSHA standards under the new rule and make updates whenever employee responsibilities change.