ISHN Guest BlogWith a little fanfare, OSHA announced August 23 a proposed rule that would reduce exposure to silica.

The proposed rule, encompassing nearly 800 pages, would reduce the exposure limit to silica to 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter, half of what is currently in place.

The proposed rule would also detail widely used methods for controlling worker exposure, conducting medical surveillance, train workers about silica-related hazards and recordkeeping measures.

One other important fact about the proposed rule is that it includes two separate standards – one for general industry and maritime employment, and one for construction.

OSHA estimates once the full effects of the rule are realized, nearly 700 lives per year would be saved.

Now, can we look forward to seeing this rule enacted any time soon? I’m afraid the answer to that one is somewhat complicated.

• If you recall, OSHA sent this proposed rule to the White House for internal review (to last no more than 120 days) way back in February 2011. After two and one half years, there are those who say the White House still has concerns about the proposed rule.

• The rulemaking process requires a public comment period (in this case 90 days) after publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register.

Guess what?

The rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register. In other words, as one individual told me, it seems as if “OSHA held an announcement to announce there will be an announcement”.

According to OSHA, the rule has been sent to the Federal Register and should be published “soon.”

• Following the public comment period there will be public hearings. The announcement states that public hearings will begin on March 4, 2014.

• And lest we forget the probable lawsuits that will be forthcoming.

Since announcement of the proposal there have been considerable comments from various parties interested in the issue. Of course AIHA is interested and we have several volunteer groups already at work drafting comments.

But when will we see a final rule in place?

That’s the big question. The most plausible answer is one provided by an individual who closely follows this issue and the regulatory process when they stated they would “be pleasantly surprised if we see this final rule by the end of the Obama Administration in 2016.”

Now isn’t that refreshing!!

Reprinted by permission of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).