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Action Set on Silica, Confined Space

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

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Long-delayed federal standards on crystalline silica, confined-space work, hazard communications and other critical industry issues will see action in 2012, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

OSHA’s latest rule-making agenda includes a new proposed rule for Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica; final action on Confined Spaces in Construction and Hazard Communication standards; and progress on a variety of other industry topics, from chemical standards to affirmative action to whistleblowers.

Here’s an overview.

Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica

The off-again, on-again standard setting Permissible Exposure Limits for crystalline silica is on again, according to OSHA.

The rule would impact more than two million workers involved in abrasive blasting operations; paint, concrete product, brick and glass manufacturing; highway repair; and other activities.



An OSHA report on crystalline silica exposure shows a worker performing abrasive blasting in an area with poor natural ventilation. The area was somewhat below ground level in sloping terrain, OSHA said, and the dust exposure is obscuring the view. OSHA says it will propose a rule on such exposures this year.

The silica rule has been stalled in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) since last February—a review stage that normally takes 90 days. Peer review was completed two years ago, and the Small Business Administration finished its review in 2003.

In November, OIRA abruptly announced that the silica rule had been shifted to Extended Review status. The agency gave no reason for the delay, saying only that it was addressing “complex issues related to the costs, benefits, and economic impact analyses.”

Deaths, Illnesses Cited

OIRA itself made the case for a new rule last spring, noting that the current standard and PELs are based on an obsolete formula from 1968.

“The seriousness of the health hazards associated with silica exposure is demonstrated by the fatalities and disabling illnesses that continue to occur,” OIRA wrote.

“In 2005, the most recent year for which data is available, silicosis was identified on 161 death certificates as an underlying or contributing cause of death. It is likely that many more cases have occurred where silicosis went undetected.”

Now, OSHA says, a new Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) will come in February.

Confined Spaces in Construction

Nearly 100 workers each year—including many rescuers—died in confined-space accidents from 2005 to 2009.

In 1993, OSHA issued a confined-space rule to protect employees in general industry work. After a challenge by the United Steel Workers of America, OSHA agreed in a 1994 settlement to “publish a proposed standard on confined spaces in the construction industry as soon as possible.”

That Notice of Proposed Rule Making was finally published in 2007.

Under the proposed rule, employers would be required to determine whether there is a confined space at a job site. If so, the employer would have to identify any existing or potential hazards. If those are present, the employer would assign the space to one of four classifications and follow the specified procedures.

An extended comment and public hearing period on the proposed rule closed in October 2008, and there has been no action on the rule since then.

Now, according to OSHA’s agenda, final action is set for June 2012.

Hazard Communication

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and to disclose hazards and their associated protective measures on labels and material safety data sheets (MSDS).

All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces are required to have a hazard communication program that includes container labeling, MSDS and employee training.

A number of countries have adopted similar laws, but these vary from the U.S. laws in their scope, definitions, specificity of requirements and other details, resulting in confusion or even conflicting information.

In 2003, the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Many countries are now adopting the GHS into their national regulatory systems. OSHA’s NPRM would modify the current U.S. Hazard Communication Standard to conform with GHS.

Advance Notice of the Proposed Rule Making was published in 2006, and the proposed rule was published in 2009. Public hearings were held in March 2010, and the record was closed June 1, 2010.

Now, according to OSHA’s agenda, final action is set for February.

Other Action…

Also on the year’s agenda is a proposed rule requiring employers to develop and implement an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2)

First drafted in 1998, the requirement would supersede voluntary Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines published in 1989. OSHA says the standard would reduce some of the approximately 5,000 deaths, 3.5 million serious injuries, and many illnesses that occur in American workplaces every year. 

 2008 Imperial Sugar explosion

 US Chemical Safety Board

OSHA has back-burnered regulation of combustible dust, the cause of the 2008 Imperial Sugar explosion that killed 14 people.

Review under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act is to begin this month.

OSHA’s 2012 agenda also includes:

• Review/Lookback of Chemical Standards;

• Construction Contractors' Affirmative Action Requirements;

• Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination Obligations of Contractors and Subcontractors Regarding Protected Veterans; and

• Four new rules to protect whistleblowers.

…And Inaction

Absent from the agenda, however, is any action this year on combustible dust standards, the subject of H.R. 522, introduced a year ago by Rep. John Barrow (D-GA).

Barrow’s congressional district was the site of the 2008 Imperial Sugar explosion, which killed 14 people and was traced to “massive accumulations” of combustible dust.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has called on OSHA to promulgate a standard after several reports noting the deaths of more than 130 workers and more than 700 others in dust fires and explosions since 1980.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Air quality; Confined space; Hazard Communication Standard (HCS); Health and safety; OSHA; Silica

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