Comment Period Opens for Silica Rule
Federal officials have officially published their proposed rule to limit worker exposure to crystalline silica, ushering in what is sure to be a robust public comment period on the issue.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration published its Proposed Rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica, announced Aug. 23, in the Federal Register on Thursday (Sept. 12).
Publication of the proposed rule started a 90-day clock for public comments on the proposal, which will be felt throughout the coatings, construction and abrasive blasting industries.
The deadline for written comments is Dec. 11, 2013.
Hearings on the proposed rule are scheduled to begin March 4, 2014, at the Department of Labor’s Frances Perkins Building in Washington, D.C. Members of the public who wish to participate in public hearings must submit a notice of intention to appear by Nov. 12, 2013.
The proposals include a new uniform exposure limit for crystalline silica and details methods for controlling worker exposure, conducting medical surveillance, training workers about silica-related hazards, and recordkeeping measures.
According to OSHA, the new regulation will save 688 lives and prevent 1,600 cases of the lung disease silicosis each year.
The regulation will also affect about 470,000 small businesses or government offices at an annual cost of $637 million. OSHA predicts that 1.3 million workers at small businesses are exposed to silica dust.
The proposed rule had been expected for years; indeed, the measure was submitted two and a half years ago for what was supposed to be a 90-day review by the federal Office of Management and Budget.
Exposure to airborne silica dust occurs in cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick, block and other stone products and in operations using sand products, such as abrasive blasting.
When the proposal was released, therefore, its friends and foes emerged quickly. With a few exceptions, the debate generally pits employers and business groups against unions and worker safety advocates.
Employer and business groups say the rules are unnecessary and will cost them billions of dollars to implement; 11 major building and contracting organization have formed the Construction Industry Safety Coalition to fight the current proposal.
Supporters of the measure say that excessive silica exposure is an ongoing danger to hundreds of thousands of American workers.