OSHA today announced a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) to target worksites where employees are at risk for developing silicosis, a disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by breathing in a large amount of crystalline silica.

The NEP compliance directive builds on policies and procedures instituted in the 1996 Special Emphasis Program and includes an updated list of industries commonly known to have overexposures to silica, which threatens nearly two million American employees annually, according to the agency.

The directive also includes detailed information on potential hazards linked to silica and information on current research regarding silica exposure hazards. It also gives guidance on calculating the permissible exposure limits (PELs) for dust containing respirable crystalline silica in the construction and maritime industries, as well as guidance on conducting silica-related inspections.

In addition, the directive includes an evaluation procedure for recording reductions of employee exposures to silica, and it provides information on outreach programs, partnerships and alliances with employers to share resources and training to reduce employee exposures.

“Under this program, OSHA will work diligently to maximize the protection of employees and eliminate workplace exposures to silica-related hazards,” said OSHA chief Edwin G. Foulke, Jr.