Proposed Rule to Protect Workers Released for Public Comment

by Katie Greenhaw, 8/27/2013

On Friday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a long-delayed proposed rule to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica. Silica dust can be deadly; it kills hundreds of workers every year and sickens thousands more. Now, after more than a decade and a half in development and over two years of review, the proposal has been released and will soon be ready for public comment.

More than two million U.S. workers are exposed to breathable crystalline silica in a variety of industries and occupations, including construction, sandblasting, and mining. Currently, OSHA enforces outdated, 40-year-old exposure limits for silica. The new standards would lower the limit of silica dust that workers are permitted to breathe and lay out methods for controlling exposure. OSHA estimates that once its full effects are realized, the proposed rule will save almost 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis (a deadly lung disease) each year.

Updating permissible exposure limits for silica has been no easy task. OSHA set out to update silica standards in 1998, but lengthy rulemaking delays and political and industry interference kept the rule from moving forward. Finally, in February 2011, OSHA sent the proposal to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. OIRA review should take no longer than 120 days, but the proposed silica rule sat at the office for more than two and a half years.

Now that the proposal has been released, worker safety advocates are urging the agency and the Obama administration to move forward without further delay and issue strong final rules that will improve worker protections.

Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the rulemaking docket will be open for public comments. Visit OSHA’s website for more information on the silica rule.

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