Many construction activities, including masonry and concrete work, can expose workers to crystalline silica, OSHA says.

Crystalline Silica Rule Pending at OIRA

The Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica proposed rule was received by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Feb. 14. If the NPRM is published in April as planned, the agency will be trying to lower its PELS for general industry, construction, and maritime.

April 2011 will be a significant month on OSHA's rulemaking calendar if two economically significant proposed rules stay on track. The Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica proposed rule, which was received by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Feb. 14, is listed there with April as the date for issuing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. And April also is the date given for OSHA to initiate a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) review of a proposed combustible dust standard for general industry.

The two rules have been on the agency's agenda for some time. OSHA's PEL (8-hour TWA) for crystalline silica as respirable quartz is 10 mg/m3 divided by the value "%SiO2 + 2." The OSHA PEL (8-hour TWA) for crystalline silica as total quartz is 30 mg/m3 divided by the value "%SiO2 + 2." The NIOSH recommended exposure limit is far lower -- TWA 0.05 mg/m3 -- yet twice as high as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH)'s recommended level of TWA 0.025 mg/m3.

NIOSH and OSHA have estimated in recent years that from 1.7 million to 2 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica. Exposures at high levels can cause silicosis, a potentially fatal disease.

Employees can be exposed during work in foundries, industries that have abrasive blasting operations, paint manufacture, glass and concrete product manufacture, brick making, china and pottery manufacture, the manufacture of plumbing fixtures, and many construction activities, including highway repair, masonry, concrete work, rock drilling, and tuckpointing, OSHA says. The agency plans to lower the PELs for general industry, construction , and maritime.

Unlike crystalline silica, OSHA has no existing standard that addresses combustible dust hazards. OSHA published an ANPRM in October 2009, held three stakeholder meetings soon after, and held a webchat for combustible dust on June 28, 2010.

The SBREFA process works this way: OSHA convenes a panel of officials from its staff, the Small Business Administration's Chief Counsel for Advocacy, and the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which already has the crystalline silica rule. The panel hears comments from representatives of small businesses and reviews the draft proposed rule and OSHA impact analyses. The panel is supposed to send a written report to OSHA within 60 days. OSHA reviews the report, revises the rule if necessary, and publishes the proposed rule with the panel's report in the Federal Register.

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