By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions, including sixteen Senators, have asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to extend its extended public comment period on its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica for a full ninety days.

We had previously blogged on the significant OSHA proposal that is intended to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica, which it claims “kills hundreds of workers and sickens thousands more each year.” The proposal is aimed at curbing lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease in America’s workers.

In addition to requesting the further extension of the comment period, the Senators asked OSHA to “convene a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act.  This is an important step to ensure that the concerns of small businesses are properly accounted for.”

In its announcement the Senators noted that a “small business review panel was convened and a report completed on the silica rulemaking—a full decade ago.” In their letter to Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, the Senators explained that “the economy has changed significantly in ten years. With the U.S. economy still recovering from a major economic downturn, stakeholders have been forced to reexamine their operations and deal with increased regulatory burdens.” In addition, the old SBAR report did not address the impact on hydraulic fracturing operations in the domestic oil and gas industry, while the proposed rule contains new standards specifically for that industry. “The impacts and costs on employers in the growing domestic oil and gas industry should be analyzed and included in a new report. Excluding these stakeholders would conflict with the intent and the spirit of the law.” Emphasis added.

As we noted in our earlier blogs, 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 and/or testimony on the proposal, and to 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. For instance, many states and local municipalities have enacted fracking rules that are now or will soon be in effect. Proactive steps now may allow the company to avoid costly enforcement and litigation in the future.

As of now, the deadline for written comments and hearing testimony is January 27, 2014.  The public hearings are scheduled to begin on March 18, 2014, and are expected to continue for several weeks.