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Silica Rulemaking Comment Period Extended

By Roy Maurer  10/25/2013
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Editor's note: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration again extended the public comment period for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica to Feb. 11, 2014.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced an extension of the public comment period on its proposed rule to reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica.

Commenters have until Jan. 27, 2014, [see note above for new extension date] to comment and until Dec. 12, 2013, to submit a notice of intention to appear at OSHA’s public hearings scheduled to begin March 18, 2014.

The change came after industry stakeholders requested a 90-day extension.

“We strongly encourage the public to assist in the process of developing a final rule by submitting written comments and participating in public hearings,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels. “We especially hope to hear from employers, workers and public health professionals who have experience in successfully protecting workers from silica-related diseases.”

Announced Aug. 23, 2013, OSHA’s proposed rule would set a PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day. The current PEL for quartz, the most common form of crystalline silica, is roughly 100 micrograms per cubic meter.

Overexposure to breathable crystalline silica causes an irreversible lung disease called silicosis. At least 1.7 million workers in the U.S. are potentially exposed to this hazard annually, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

“Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential,” said Michaels. “Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis—an incurable and progressive disease—as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease,” he said.

OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will result in saving nearly 700 lives per year and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually.

The proposed rulemaking includes two separate standards: one for general industry and maritime employment, and one for construction.

Occupational exposure to crystalline silica often occurs as part of common workplace operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick, block, rock and stone. Activities historically associated with high rates of silicosis include sandblasting, sand-casting foundry operations, mining, tunneling, cement cutting, demolition, masonry work and granite cutting.

OSHA said the proposal is based on extensive review of scientific and technical evidence, consideration of current industry consensus standards and outreach by OSHA to stakeholders.

“The proposed rule uses common sense measures that will protect workers’ lives and lungs, like keeping the material wet so dust doesn’t become airborne,” said Michaels. “It is designed to give employers flexibility in selecting ways to meet the standard,” he said.

The proposal also includes provisions for measuring silica exposure, methods to reduce exposure, medical surveillance, and training workers about silica hazards.

OSHA estimates that its proposal will cost an average of $1,242 per workplace per year and provide $2.8 to $4.7 billion in average net benefits per year over the next 60 years.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.


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