May 2016
Volume 7, Issue 5

OSHA Targets Dust Exposure

By Jason Mazda

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a final rule to limit the exposure of workers to respirable crystalline silica, a type of dust that OSHA says is associated with lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.

Dental laboratories are among the 13 general industry/maritime sectors listed by OSHA as having workers exposed to crystalline silica, with 31,105 workers currently exposed and 864 of those exposed above the new permissible exposure limit (PEL).1

“This rule will save lives,” US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez says in a news release announcing the rule, which marks the first time silica exposure regulations have been changed since 1971.

Among the requirements of the rule, employers must “measure the amount of silica that workers are exposed to if it may be at or above an action level of 25 µg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), averaged over an eight-hour day.” They also must “protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposures above the permissible exposure limit of 50 µg/m3, averaged over an eight-hour day.”1

The rule goes into effect June 23, 2018 for dental laboratories and other employers covered by the general industry and maritime standard. By then, OSHA fines will be higher as well, because the organization announced late last year that it would increase fines by as much as approximately 80%.2

The solution for most dental laboratories to be in compliance is to simply utilize engineering controls that are built into their existing evacuation units and exercise proper maintenance of the systems, says Gary D. Morgan, CDT, Vice President and Senior Consultant for Safelink Consulting, Inc.

“Most dental laboratories’ PELs are below the limit, but the only way to confirm that is by testing and monitoring,” Morgan says. “The important thing is to know where these particles are and make sure your suction system is functioning properly.”

Morgan says investing is one of the riskiest tasks in the dental laboratory in terms of silica dust. Grinding porcelain and using glass beads in a sandblasting unit also are areas of concern, he says.

“We are seeing less exposure to silica dust because of the CAD/CAM processes that laboratories that are utilizing now,” Morgan says. “The materials and processes that produce the most silica dust are being decreasingly used. Silica dust will still be present in CAD/CAM processes, however, and laboratories must always be aware of it.”

Morgan says one crucial step is to simply read the safety data sheets provided with each material to see if crystalline silica is noted.

OSHA estimates that approximately 2.3 million people face exposure to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, and that the new rule will save more than 600 lives annually.

Morgan says Safelink has made its clients aware of the issue in the past, and continues to provide guidance, including written protocols to help comply with the new rule.

“Very few dental laboratories have ever voluntarily tested for silica exposure,” Morgan says. “Most of the laboratories that have tested did so in response to an OSHA citation, or OSHA did it for them on-site because of a violation or complaint.

“Testing is the only way to know with certainty that you are protecting your employee, because you can install the best engineering controls, but if it is not being used properly or maintained well, it might be ineffective.”


1. News Release: US Labor Department Announces Final Rule to Improve U.S. Workers’ Protection From the Dangers of ‘Respirable’ Silica Dust. United States Department of Labor Web Site. Published March 24, 2016. Accessed March 31, 2016.

2. Berzon A. OSHA Fines to Rise for First Time Since 1990. November 3, 2015. Accessed April 1, 2016.

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