Silica Standard

This Q&A document was prepared to provide basic information to our customers and their employees about OSHA’s new crystalline silica Standard. This document doesn’t contain all information about crystalline silica that an individual might require. Complete information on the Standard is available on OSHA’s website at What does the new Silica Standard mean to tile installers?

What is Crystalline Silica?
Crystalline silica is a common mineral naturally occuring in many materials and used in many industrial products and at construction sites. Materials like sand, stone, tile, quartz and mortar contain crystalline silica. Crystalline silica is also used to make products such as glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, concrete, artificial stone and engineered quartz.

What is respirable crystalline silica?
Respirable particles are defined as having a diameter of less than 10 microns. These very small particles (typically at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand found on beaches or playgrounds) are created by “high-energy” operations like cutting, sawing, polishing, grinding, drilling and crushing of materials. In addition to tile products, other materials that contain crystalline silica are stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar.

How do we know if the products we receive will contain crystalline silica?
Each product has a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Section 3 of the SDS identifies any hazardous component within the product. SDS documents are available for each series of products on the Marazzi branded web sites and/or from any Marazzi sales representative.

What level of exposure is defined as permissible by the new Silica Standard?
The new Silica Standard established the new Respirable Crystalline Silica Permissible Exposure Level (PEL) at 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (ug/m3). This level is less than half the previous PEL which was calculated based on the percentage of silica in the material. With the new rule, OSHA said health risks may still remain at the new PEL, but considers a PEL of 50 ug/m3 to be “the lowest level that can reasonably be achieved through use of engineering controls and work practices in most affected operations.”

Is there a potential for exposure by homeowners and their families after installation is complete?
The short answer is no. Intact tiles, stone, quartz and other hard surface materials do not generate any respirable dust. No acute or chronic effects from exposure to intact hard surface materials have ever been identified.

Is my work operation covered under OSHA?
Any employer that has 10 or more employees, each working forty or more hours per week is regulated by all applicable OSHA Standards.

Is there a risk of exposure to crystalline silica while installing these types of materials?
Exposure to elevated levels of respirable crystalline silica during installation is possible only under limited circumstances. As described in Response 2 above, respirable crystalline silica is only created from tile, stone and quartz under high energy operations.

What if an installer utilizes the practice of scoring and breaking products for installation?
The practice of scoring hard surface products during installation will produce extremely low, if any, levels of respirable crystalline silica. As described in Response 2 above, the release of crystalline silica requires the use of high energy such as grinding or sawing. Cutting products to size by scoring would not meet this definition.

What if an installer utilizes a technique call dry cutting?
THIS IS NOT A RECOMMENDED METHOD! Where special or unusual uses or conditions exist that might require dry cutting, the assistance of an industrial hygienist or other qualified environmental professional should be obtained prior to such cutting.

How can exposures to respirable crystalline silica be controlled?
The OSHA Standard requires the use of engineering controls and work practices as the primary means to keep exposures at or below the established level.

Engineering controls may include the following:

  • Wetting down work operations.
  • Enclosure of operations that generate dust.
  • Use of local exhaust ventilations (such as vacuums) to keep silica-containing dust out of the air being breathed by workers.
  • Employ tool(s) with water controls and ensure use of the water flow rate recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Other controls may be appropriate depending on the circumstances

An example of work practices to control silica exposures includes wetting down dust before sweeping it up.

Respirators are required to be used when engineering and work practice controls cannot maintain exposures at or below the PEL.

For construction, the Standard includes a list of common construction tasks along with exposure control methods and work practices, which can be used to comply with the requirements of the standard. The excerpt relating to masonry saws, which are similar to saws used to cut tile and other hard surface products, is provided below.

§1926.1153 Respirable crystalline silica.
Equipment / Task Engineering and Work Practice Control Methods Required Respiratory Protection and Minimum Assigned Protection Factor (APF)
≤ 4 hours /shift > 4 hours /shift
(i) Stationary masonry saws Use saw equipped with integrated water delivery system that continuously feeds water to the blade. Operate and maintain tool in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions to minimize dust emissions. None None

Therefore, if you are cutting hard surface products at the job site with a wet saw (which is the preferred and typical work method), no other controls are necessary.

Does the new Standard express any concerns about work practices?
Yes. The OSHA Silica Standard discourages the use of dry sweeping/brooming and/or use of compressed air for cleaning, since these methods can create airborne dust and increase the potential of exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

If our company needs help, what does Marazzi recommend?
Seek a competent Industrial Hygiene professional with knowledge of evaluating your type of work operations. OSHA also has an On-Site Consultation Program that provides professional, individualized assistance to small businesses at no cost.