By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has just proposed a rule that is intended to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica, which it claims “kills hundreds of workers and sickens thousands more each year.” 78 Fed. Reg. 56274 (September 12, 2013). The proposal is aimed at curbing lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease in America’s workers.

According to Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, “exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential.”  “Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease.” OSHA news release.

OSHA estimates that once the full effects of the rule have been realized, it will result in saving nearly 700 lives per year, and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually.

We had previously blogged about whether respirable silica was the “new” asbestos-like hazard for workplace exposure? OSHA, along with its sister agency, NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), had recently posted a “hazard alert” for Worker Exposure to Silica during Hydraulic Fracturing. In British Columbia, a recent proposed construction safety rule for silica had been published to amend the Provincial Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. Check the blog for more details about these silica worker health-related materials.

Industries potentially impacted by this proposal include operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick, block and other stone products, and in operations using sand products, such as in glass manufacturing, foundries, and sand blasting. The proposal includes two separate standards; one for general industry and maritime employment, and one for construction industries.

Employers in these effected industries may wish to study the proposed rules carefully to determine likely impacts on its businesses. Now is the time to submit comments on the proposal, and participate at the OSHA hearings on these rules, to preserve any rights and make a difference in the final rules.

In addition, employers may wish to take steps to ensure that they are in compliance with OSHA and local laws and regulations. Proactive steps now may allow the company to avoid costly enforcement and litigation in the future.

Written public comments are due on December 11, 2013.  An informal public hearing is planned for March 4, 2014.