Written comments on OSHA's silica exposure proposal can be submitted by:
• Visiting the federal government’s online rulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket ID# OSHA-2010-0034.
• Faxing OSHA’s docket office at: 202-693-1648 (for comments of 10 pages or less).
• Sending hard-copy documents (via regular mail, express delivery, courier, or hand delivery) to the OSHA Docket Office, Technical Data Center, Room N-2625, OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor, 200, Constitution Ave., NW., Washington, D.C. 20210.       
More information about public participation is included in a public participation factsheet (http://www.osha.gov/silica/factsheets/OSHA_FS-3684_Silica_Public.html).

The fact sheet details how to submit comments, data, and other documentary evidence to the public docket for the silica rulemaking.

OSHA fielded some tough questions last week during a live web chat on its proposed rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica.

Cost concerns popped up frequently during the interactive session, which was intended to provide small businesses and other stakeholders the opportunity to ask questions about a proposal that OSHA predicts will prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis, lung cancer, and other diseases among the American workforce.

Following are some of the exchanges that took place during the web chat: (Click here to access the archived web event.)

Q: How will this regulation ensure that the hierarchy of controls is the basis of the entire program?
OSHA: As with all OSHA Health Standards, the proposed rule requires employers to implement engineering and work practice controls before requiring employers to wear personal protective equipment, such as respirators.

Q: Could you give me a link to a site which summarizes the proposed rule? I just want to see the high points.
OSHA: Please visit www.osha.gov/silica. This page provides several fact sheets with highlights of the proposed rule, including specific information for small businesses, construction, general industry and maritime.

Can exposure be accurately measured?

Q: There has been some concern offered about whether the technology currently exists to accurately measure respirable silica dust under different conditions at the proposed action level. Could OSHA address this question?
OSHA: OSHA believes that existing analytical methods can measure worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica at the PEL and action level with a reasonable degree of precision. Analytical methods are described in Chapter 4, Section B of OSHA’s Preliminary Economic Analysis (available on OSHA’s silica web page at: http://www.osha.gov/silica/index.html, and in the docket (http://www.regulations.gov/#!home: Docket ID: OSHA-2010-0034-1720). The proposed standard includes provisions regarding the specific sampling and analytical methods to be used, as well as the qualifications of the laboratories at which the samples are analyzed, to ensure the reliability of the air sampling results. We are looking forward to receiving comments on sampling and analytical methods.

Q: As a general contractor, what new changes do I have to be aware of, and when do they take effect?
OSHA: We want to stress that this is a proposed rule. We are proposing a PEL and a number of provisions such as requirements for air monitoring, medical surveillance, use of ventilation controls, and PPE. None of these will go into effect until the rule is finalized.

Q: I manage a dental practice for 15 dentists and hygienists. Will this regulation affect us?
OSHA: The proposed rule would apply only where workplace exposure to silica occurs. This will not affect most dental practices. However, dental laboratories may be affected where they use silica containing materials either as a component of dental appliances (crowns, bridges, orthodontic appliances, and dental prostheses) or as an abrasive material for finishing these products.

Q: What is a work practice control?
OSHA: Examples of a work practice control are practices such as prohibiting dry sweeping, not using compressed air, and limiting number of workers exposed.

How will the foundry industry be affected?

Q: As a foundry owner what will the foundry industry see from the new proposed regulations?
OSHA: Foundry establishments would be affected only where there are potential worker exposures to crystalline silica. OSHA’s proposed rule includes a lower permissible exposure limit and other requirements such as medical surveillance, exposure assessment, and training.

Q: So if an engineering solution is supported by exposure monitor to reduce the hazard to acceptable levels, PPE should not be required.
OSHA: As long as engineering controls are sufficient to maintain silica exposure below the PEL, respirators would not be required.

Q: Why hasn't OSHA provided the typical full 90 days to prepare comments on the proposed rule? We need that time to properly respond to it.
OSHA: The original comment period for the NPRM was 90 days. The NPRM for respirable crystalline silica was posted on OSHA’s public website nearly three weeks in advance of its publication in the Federal Register. OSHA subsequently extended the comment period for an additional 47 days. With that extension of the public comment period and the advanced notice, the public now has a total of 157 days to review and submit pre-hearing comments on the proposed rule. This pre-hearing public comment period is among the longest in the history of OSHA rulemakings.

Q: What are the major changes for the rule?
OSHA: We are proposing a new lower permissible exposure limit (PEL) and a number of provisions such as requirements for air monitoring, medical surveillance, use of engineering controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE). None of these will go into effect until the rule is finalized.

What's the timeline?

Q: When if ever will this rule be final?
OSHA: OSHA has not yet established a timetable for the issuing 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.

Q: Who decides when enough engineering controls have been implemented?
OSHA: The proposed rule provides flexibility to employers in that the employer decides which engineering and work practice controls will be implemented to meet the proposed PEL (permissible exposure limit). Under the proposed rule, the employer would be required to use feasible engineering and work practice controls to reduce employee exposures to, or below, the proposed PEL.

Q: Has an estimated cost to employers been established?
OSHA: Yes. The proposed rule is estimated to result in annual costs of about $1,242 for the average workplace covered by the rule. The annual cost to a firm with fewer than twenty employees would be less, averaging about $550. This information is presented in OSHA’s Preliminary Economic Analysis (PEA), available on OSHA’s silica web page at: http://www.osha.gov/silica/index.html, and in the docket (http://www.regulations.gov/#!home: Docket ID: OSHA-2010-0034-1720). OSHA’s preliminary assessment was based on the best information available to the Agency at the time the proposal was issued.

If interested parties have additional information, we invite them to share it with us in the form of a written comment on the proposed rule or by appearing at the upcoming public hearings. If possible, we encourage them to indicate elements specific to their industry, including estimated silica exposures, costs, and economic impacts that they believe differ significantly from OSHA’s assessment.

Click here to read Part 2.

Click here to read Part 3.