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 held a web chat last week on its proposed rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica that gave 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:

Q: What is OSHA's definition of feasible?
OSHA: The OSH Act requires OSHA to set standards which most adequately assures, to the extent feasible, that no employees will suffer the material impairment of health or functional capacity. According to court decisions, OSHA must prove a reasonable possibility that the typical firm will be able to develop and install engineering and work practice controls that can meet the PEL (permissible exposure limit) in most of its operations. In developing this proposal, OSHA made numerous site visits to ensure it’s possible for establishments to comply with the proposed rule. OSHA’s preliminary feasibility assessment was based on the best information available to the Agency at the time the proposal was issued. That 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).

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

Q: Is OSHA going to recommend engineering controls and work practice controls in the standard?
OSHA: Under the proposed rule, employers would be required to first implement feasible engineering controls before requiring employees to wear respirators. Respirators cannot be used unless engineering and work practice controls alone are not sufficient to reduce silica exposure below the permissible exposure limit (PEL).

Silicosis, emphysema, lung cancer...

Q: If there have been only 600 deaths from years 2006 thru 2010, how can a revision to the rule result in the prevention of up to 700 deaths annually?
OSHA: From 2006 through 2010, silicosis was listed as the underlying or a contributing cause of death on over 600 death certificates in the United States but most deaths from silicosis go undiagnosed. Also, many silica-related deaths are caused by chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, kidney disease and other diseases; these deaths are not reflected in the death certificate statistics cited above.

Q: How can I get in contact with providers of the consultation program for the state of Alabama?
OSHA: The contact information for the Alabama onsite consultation program is:
Alabama Safe State Program
University of Alabama
432 Martha Parham West, Room 432,
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487,
To contact them by phone, call 205-348-8975 or 1-800-321-OSHA and ask to be connected to the Alabama consultation program. Q:

Q: Why did OSHA not provide economic impact data relative to short line railroads?
OSHA: OSHA’s economic analysis did include estimated costs to rail transportation. See Chapter 5 of the PEA and Table VIII-9 in the Federal Register notice for OSHA’s cost analysis on rail transportation. We welcome comment on the impact of the proposed rule on short line railroads.

Should I worry about my kids?

Q: What is the exposure at a beach or in a sand box? Should I worry about my kids?
OSHA: No. The OSHA standard covers respirable crystalline silica –very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might encounter on beaches and playgrounds.

Q: I do not work with silica myself, but I am a receptionist in the office at a cement plant. There is dust in the air everywhere and it settles on the desks and file cabinets and sometimes on my clothes. Will this rule make my boss do more to protect me from getting cancer?
OSHA: The proposed rule would apply to all exposed employees of a company and under the proposed rule an employer would have to comply with all of those provisions for all of its exposed employees.

More than half a million workplaces affected

Q: What industries will be most affected by this proposed rulemaking?
OSHA: Approximately 534,000 workplaces would be affected by this proposal, including 477,000 in construction and 57,000 in general industry and maritime.

Q: OSHA's proposal gives labs 2 years to upgrade their technology so they can give reliable results at the levels required by this rulemaking. Is that an admission on OSHA's part that the labs cannot give the necessary level of reliability now? What are employers supposed to do if the labs can't give them results that are reliable? Why do the labs get 2 years and not employers?
OSHA: OSHA’s proposed phase-in is not primarily related to the reliability of laboratories. Instead OSHA is recognizing that the requirements for monitoring in the proposed rule will increase demand for analysis of samples of respirable crystalline silica. In addition, a two-year startup period is proposed to allow time for laboratories to achieve compliance with the proposed requirements, particularly for accreditation. OSHA welcomes comment on this issue.

Q: With construction utilizing a transient work force how can employer track whether temporary worker have been exposed at or above PEL for more than 30 days?
OSHA: Under the proposed rule, an employer would only be responsible for tracking the number of days a worker may have been exposed at its site. OSHA solicits comments on the 30 day trigger for medical surveillance in the “Issues” section of the NPRM.

Q: Are particulate face masks an engineering solution?
OSHA: Face masks and respirators are considered personal protective equipment, not an engineering control.

Impact on small businesses

Q: What is the most significant impact that this rule will have on small businesses?
OSHA: In general, the most significant impact of this rule on small businesses would be a small increase in cost and an improvement in their employees’ health.
Q: Looking at the current PEL of 0.1 and it going to 0.05 in essence doubles the hazard ratio on all related trades working with or in the presence of silica. This is most likely going to require workers to go from dust masks to respiratores. Am I reading the proposal correctly???
OSHA: OSHA believes that reducing the current exposure limit from .1 to .05 would not result in more widespread use of respirators. OSHA’s analysis of the effectiveness of dust control technologies indicates that in most cases employers will be able to comply with the .05 exposure limit using engineering and work practice controls (such as ventilation or wetting materials) and will not have to use respirators. See Chapter 4 of OSHA’s Preliminary Economic Analysis for the discussion of dust control technologies at http://www.osha.gov/silica/index.html.

How safe are x-rays?

Q: Is OSHA concerned with radiation exposure from the chest x-rays? The occupational health facility that we use will not perform chest x-rays unless a doctor says it is medically necessary. What will happen if an employee refuses to get a chest x-ray because of radiation exposure?
OSHA: In proposing frequency for chest x-rays, OSHA considered it to be a reasonable balance between detecting disease early and the risk of radiation exposure. Employers would be required to offer medical surveillance, including x-rays, only once every three years to workers exposed above the PEL for 30 or more days per year. However, workers can decline an x-ray. OSHA is requesting comment on medical surveillance provisions.

Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 2.