The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration on Aug. 23 released its long anticipated proposal to reduce occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica. The proposal appears here and will be published in the Federal Register shortly.

Although most NSSGA member facilities are not regulated by OSHA, many of their customers are. However, this is an important development because the U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration has stated its intent to issue a similar proposal for the mining industry later this year.

OSHA is proposing a 50% reduction in the current Permissible Exposure Limit – to 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of workplace air – and an Action Level of 25 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of workplace air. The proposal also includes requirements for initial and periodic exposure assessments, regulated and restricted work areas, engineering and work practice exposure controls, respiratory protection, employee medical surveillance, employee training and recordkeeping. There will be a 90-day public comment period following publication of the proposal unless OSHA grants an extension. Such a request by affected parties is certain.

OSHA’s proposal had been under review at the White House Office of Management & Budget since February 2011 (whereas a 90-day review is typical).  The unusually long delay at OMB is one indication of the controversy that surrounds this issue.  Silica-related disease has fallen by more than 90% since the current exposure limit became law more than 40 years ago.  NSSGA has consistently stated its belief that the current limit is protective when it is complied with and reliably enforced.  The ability for laboratories to measure exposures reliably and consistently at the proposed exposure limit and action level has also been called into question.

NSSGA will continue its work with the American Chemistry Council’s Crystalline Silica Panel to review the proposal and respond to the agency as appropriate.  Meanwhile, NSSGA urges all members to review the OSHA proposal and determine the effect that a similar MSHA standard would have on their employees and operations.

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