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OSHA Seeks Money Trail in Silica Debate

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

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Individuals and organizations who want to comment on a federal proposal to limit silica exposure are being asked to disclose their funding sources and any conflicts of interest—reportedly a first in federal rulemaking.

According to a Sept. 12 Federal Register notice, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is requesting (but not requiring) that parties that submit scientific or technical studies, results of scientific research, or comments on OSHA's analyses provide:

  • Information about the funding sources and sponsoring organizations of the research; and
  • "...the nature of any financial relationships (e.g., consulting agreements, expert witness support, or research funding) between investigators who conducted the research and any organization(s) or entities having an interest in the rulemaking."

"Disclosure of such information is intended to promote transparency and scientific integrity of data and technical information submitted to the record," said OSHA.

OSHA silica rule
© iStock / ZooCat

OSHA has requested (not required) financial information from those seeking to comment on its Proposed Rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica—a move that reportedly no federal agency has done before, according to an article from Bloomberg BNA.

OSHA says the request is consistent with Executive Order 13563, issued on Jan. 18, 2011, which instructs agencies to "ensure the objectivity of any scientific and technological information and processes used to support the agency's regulatory actions."

Consistent or not, the request is sure to add another layer of controversy to the already-divisive Proposed Rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica.

Controversial Proposal

The controversial proposal was published in September, starting a 90-day clock for public comments.

The proposal, years in the making, would reduce and standardize exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica and establish protocols for worker training and recordkeeping. The rule would would be felt across the coatings, abrasive blasting and construction industries.

Employer associations oppose the measure, calling it expensive and unnecessary. Worker health advocates say that the rule would save lives and that employers have failed to sufficiently control silica exposure, even though its dangers have been known for decades.

Transparency or Bias?

Proponents of disclosure call it a welcome first that would create more transparency in rulemaking.

"Funders may not think the conclusions are strong enough, or are too strong, and if they have that kind of control over a study, then it slips into this area where it's not really independent research anymore," Celeste Monforton, a lecturer at George Washington University and former OSHA policy analyst, told Bloomberg BNA.

"It's something that should be disclosed, so those of us who are relying on those studies can take that into consideration."

However, the disclosure request could unfairly focus challenges on a commenter, rather than the comment, contended industry attorney David Sarvadi, of Keller & Heckman LLP.

"When OSHA sees something that's been submitted by So-and-So that's been supported by Such-and-Such an organization, inevitably, in the back of their minds, a bias is going to be created against that information," Sarvadi said.

OSHA
OSHA

According to OSHA, more than two million workers are currently exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces.

On the other hand, scientific and technical studies cost money, and the funding source should not necessarily invalidate the results, Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg BNA.

Opponents Want Extension

The proposed rulemaking includes two separate standards—one for general industry and maritime employment, and one for construction—and details methods for controlling worker exposure, conducting medical surveillance, training workers about silica-related hazards, and recordkeeping measures.

Currently, comments are required by Dec. 11, but opponents have requested a 90-day extension, calling the deadline "virtually impossible" to meet.

The opponents say OSHA's economic and technical feasibility analyses "are so voluminous that simply reviewing the material alone will take the vast majority of the initial 90-day comment period."

According to OSHA, the new regulation will save 700 lives and prevent 1,600 cases of the lung disease silicosis each year "once the full effects of the rule are realized."

OSHA says about 2.2 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces and more than 640,000 are believed to be exposed to silica levels that exceed the current Permissible Exposure Limits.

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 8:08 a.m. Oct. 23, 2013, to reflect that OSHA's request for the disclosures is not a requirement.

   

Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Construction; Health and safety; OSHA; Painters; Silica; Surface preparation

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