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‘Intensive’ Silica Hearings Open

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

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The long-smoldering controversy over new silica limits in the workplace found its voice Tuesday (March 18) in Washington, D.C., as public hearings on the federal proposal opened.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's hearings for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica mark the beginning of "an intensive three weeks of public comment" on the proposal, with hearings scheduled through April 4, according to OSHA.

Yesterday's hearings were to open with OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health making their case for the rule. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the chemical industry's American Chemical Council are scheduled to have their say today (March 19).

The rule was published Sept. 12 in the Federal Register, and the public comment period was extended several times, to five months in all.


As currently proposed, lower silica exposure limits would affect many areas of construction, coatings and abrasive blasting work.

OSHA says the measure's goal is to update "inconsistent and outdated" permissible exposure limits for crystalline silica in general industry, construction and shipyards, as well as to establish other provisions to better protect workers.

'High Level of Public Engagement'

The proposed rulemaking includes two separate standards—one for general industry and maritime employment, and one for construction—that would have widespread impact on the industrial and commercial coating and abrasive-blasting industries.

The proposed rule would limit worker exposure to a PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day—a sharp reduction from the current limits. Additional information on the proposed rule, including five fact sheets, is available at here.

The silica proposal has sharply divided the industries it will affect.

"We look forward to receiving feedback from our stakeholders on our proposal, and we’re grateful for the continuing high level of public engagement throughout the rulemaking,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels.


OSHA says the new limits will save lives. Construction employers say the plan is unnecessary and costly, and they have asked OSHA to withdraw it.

“This is an open process, and the input we receive will help us ensure that a final rule adequately protects workers, is feasible for employers, and is based on the best available evidence.”

Friends and Foes

Construction employers have urged OSHA to withdraw the proposal, calling it "significantly flawed" and saying it "will do little to improve workplace health or safety."

Meanwhile, coating makers, represented by the American Coatings Association, are seeking an exemption from the rule, contending that current controls adequately protect paint manufacturing and many painting operations from excessive silica exposure.

The ACA says that the new level of monitoring would cost its industry $700,000—10 times the federal government's estimate.

Paint cans
©iStock / ozgurdonmaz

Coating manufacturers contend that current regulations and controls protect their employees from excessive silica exposure.

OSHA and the rule's supporters say it would reduce worker exposure to crystalline silica, which causes silicosis, an incurable lung disease. Leading scientific organizations, including the American Cancer Society, have also confirmed the causal relationship between silica and lung cancer.

OSHA says the proposal "is based on extensive review of scientific and technical evidence, consideration of current industry consensus standards and consultation with stakeholders."

Following the Hearings

Members of the public may attend the hearing sessions to listen to testimony from OSHA and other participants. Learn more about the hearing procedures here. The hearing schedule is avavilable here.

Members of the public who filed a timely written notice of intention to appear may also ask questions of agency officials and other witnesses during the hearing. After the hearings, OSHA will publish a transcript of the hearings and make it available to the public in the rulemaking docket.

Hearing participants will also have an opportunity to submit additional evidence and comments.


Tagged categories: Abrasive recycling; American Coatings Association (ACA); Coatings manufacturers; Construction; Enforcement; Government; Health and safety; OSHA; Regulations; Silica

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/19/2014, 9:33 AM)

Okay, the ACA says it will cost $700,000 for an entire industry - that's less than a single wrongful death lawsuit.

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