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Silica Comment Period Extended Again

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

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Federal authorities will once again allow more time for public comment on a controversial proposal to limit worker exposure to silica.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has added two more weeks to the comment period for its Proposed Rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica.

However, OSHA says it is sticking to its original date of March 18 to begin public hearings.

Delays and Extensions

The proposed rule was published Sept. 12, and the comment period was to have closed Dec. 11.

Construction industry employers who oppose the plan had demanded more time to comment and sought to push back the rest of the rulemaking timeline.

OSHA makes its case for new limits on silica exposure for painters, blasters and others in Deadly Dust.

In October, OSHA agreed to add 47 days to the comment period, making the new deadline Jan. 27. The agency also gave prospective witnesses 30 additional days to submit notices of intention to appear at public hearings. However, OSHA said it would not delay the rest of the process.

On Friday (Jan. 24), however, OSHA announced another reprieve on the comment deadline, citing "concerns raised about possible public confusion due to an error on www.regulations.gov, the federal government's online portal for submitting reulmaking comments."

The new deadline for comments is 11:59 p.m. Feb. 11.

To submit comments using www.regulations.gov, stakeholders may click on the "COMMENT NOW!" box next to the title "Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica; Extension of Comment Period" and follow the instructions for making electronic submissions.

Proposal Pros...

OSHA has been warning about the danger of occupational exposure to silica since the 1930s. The agency says about 2 million American workers are exposed to silica dust each year, including many in the abrasive blasting and painting industries.

The current proposal was held up in the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than two years—in what was supposed to have been a 90-day review—before it was released last year.

Working with silica
NJ Department of Health and Senior Services / Silicosis Surveillance Project

A grinder with vacuum control can help limit exposure to respirable silica. Employers who can reduce exposures below action levels through engineering controls would not have to provide personal protective equipment, according to OSHA.

The proposed rulemaking includes two separate standards—one for general industry and maritime employment, and one for construction. Included are new exposure limits for crystalline silica, details methods for controlling worker exposure, guidelines for conducting medical surveillance, training mandates, and recordkeeping requirements.

OSHA says the new standards would save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of deadly silicosis annually. The rule has support from the AFL-CIO, worker health advocates, CPWR: The Center for Construction Research and Training, and a new study published by the American Cancer Society.

...And Cons

Construction industry employers, however, oppose the plan and have formed the Construction Industry Safety Coalition to fight it.

The coalition of 18 trade associations says OSHA needs "to develop better choices for compliance with the construction-specific silica rule: alternatives that also address costs, consistency with existing federal regulations, and do not overly burden small businesses."

ARTBA
ARTBA

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association is among the construction trade groups that consider the rule unnecessary and too costly.

The coalition comprises a wide cross-section of major industry employers, including:

  • Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.;
  • Association of Union Constructors;
  • American Road and Transportation Builders Association;
  • American Subcontractors Association;
  • Associated General Constractors;
  • Construction and Demolition Recycling Association;
  • Marble Institute of America;
  • Mason Contractors Association of America;
  • National Association of Home Builders; and the
  • National Roofing Contractors Association.

Web Chat Q&A

OSHA held a three-and-a-half-hour web chat on the rule earlier this month.

Issues raised during the forum included:

  • Whether the technology exists to accurately measure exposures under different conditions at the proposed action level (yes, according to OSHA);
  • Whether personal protective equipment would be required if engineering controls can adequately reduce exposures (no); and
  • Whether an average cost to employers had been developed (yes, about $1,242 annually for the average workplace).

The full transcript is available here.

   

Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Health and safety; OSHA; Painting Contractor; Personal protective equipment; Regulations; Silica; Worker training

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