Wednesday, January 15, 2014

OSHA's Proposed Silica Rule: Your Questions Answered

In September 2013, OSHA introduced a proposed rule to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica in operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick and other stone products, as well as in operations that use sand products, such as glass manufacturing, foundries and abrasive blasting. Airborne silica dust has been identified as a cause of lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease when inhaled, and OSHA estimates that its proposed rule could save as many as 700 lives per year.

On Jan. 14, 2014, OSHA held an online chat, giving safety professionals and other stakeholders the opportunity to ask questions about the proposed rule and receive immediate responses from OSHA staff. Below is a sampling of the questions and answers communicated during the chat.

What major changes will the rule bring about?
The proposed rule includes a new lower permissible exposure limit (PEL), as well as requirements for air monitoring, medical surveillance, use of engineering controls and personal protective equipment. None of these will go into effect until the rule is finalized.

Where can I see a summary of the proposed rule?
At you can find fact sheets containing highlights of the proposed rule, including specific information for small businesses, construction, general industry and maritime.

When will the rule be finalized?
OSHA has not yet established a timetable for the issuing of the final rule. Following the public hearings, parties who filed a notice of intent to appear will be able to submit post hearing comments and post hearing briefs. OSHA will then use this information to begin developing a final rule based on the best available evidence in the complete rulemaking record.

Has an estimated cost to employers been established?
The proposed rule is estimated to result in annual costs of about $1,242 for the average workplace covered by the rule, based on information available at the time the proposal was issued. The annual cost to a very small firm (fewer than 20 employees) is estimated at $550. See OSHA’sPreliminary Economic Analysis for more information.

What types of silica are covered by the rule?
The proposed rule covers occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica, defined as airborne particles that contain quartz, cristobalite or tridymite.

How much more stringent is the new PEL?
The proposed PEL is 50 ug/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air). This is approximately one half of the current general industry PEL.

What are the main training elements of the proposal?
Employers would be required to ensure that each affected employee can demonstrate knowledge of the silica standard, operations involving silica exposure, procedures to protect employees and the medical surveillance program. See paragraph (i) of the proposed rule for more precise language.

What are the medical surveillance requirements?
Under the proposed rule, employers would be required to offer an initial examination within 30 days after an employee’s initial assignment. Employers would also be required to offer medical surveillance every three years to workers exposed above the PEL for 30 or more days per year. Medical surveillance would include a physical exam, chest x-ray and lung function testing. The requirements are the same for general industry and construction, and employers following Table-1 in the proposed construction standard would be required to offer medical surveillance to workers performing tasks that involve respirator use 30 or more days per year, as they are assumed to be exposed above the PEL.

How long is the comment period on this proposed rule?
The original comment period was 90 days, but it has been extended for an additional 47 days. The public has had a total of 157 days to review and submit pre-hearing comments on the rule, making it among the longest of comment periods in the history of OSHA rulemakings. OSHA is still accepting comments until 12 a.m. EST on Jan. 27, 2014.

Find the entire archived web chat here