Industry, Unions Grapple with OSHA Silica Rulemaking

Courtney Little spoke to BEC Conference attendees in March about OSHA’s proposed silica rule.

Courtney Little spoke to BEC Conference attendees in March about OSHA’s proposed silica rule.

Stakeholders in the glass industry continue to assess the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposal to reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of crystalline silica, the public comment period for which recently ended.

The argument behind the proposed rulemaking is straightforward, and the issue is simple in the minds of proponents of the OSHA initiative. The rule governing exposure to silica and the PEL have not been updated for more than 40 years. Proponents of the rulemaking, such as unions that handle silica, are quick to reference the distant year of 1971 when arguing that the PEL needs to be revisited.

“We want to protect workers from silica,” says Steve Rank, director of safety and health for Ironworkers International. “We know that it’s bad for you, and there’s no question this is a bad thing to be exposed to if you work around it everyday. We want OSHA to promulgate standards that are going to protect workers.”

Under the proposed rule, workers’ exposures would be limited to a new PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (μg/m3), averaged over an eight-hour day. The new PEL would be the same in all industries covered by the rule.

Some industry groups have called for the proposed rule to be withdrawn. They argue the PEL is arbitrary and not based on science, as well as that it would be next to impossible to implement.

Anthony Darkangelo, CEO of the Finishing Contractors Association, said he recently spent half his day on the issue. The advocacy side of his association, which he says includes more than 1,300 glazing contractors, is made up of committees representing various industries; FCA’s contractor members are signatories to agreements with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT).

“First of all, health and safety is first and foremost, and should be everybody’s concern,” Darkangelo says. “Second of all, we’ve got to take a look at the scientific side of it and look at all the details, and say, what does this mean [in terms of application]?”

IUPAT’s stance on the matter is clear. “The right thing for us to do is move forward, lower the PEL and take care of everybody,” says Sarah Coyne, executive assistant director of the IUPAT Finishing Trades Institute, who testified at the OSHA hearings.

At the Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) Building Envelope Conference, Ace Glass’s Courtney Little discussed that in order to comply with the proposed rule, workers would have to “use HEPA vacuums, wet methods and no dry sweeping,” adding “I can’t imagine a jobsite without a broom.”

Coyne says, though, “We’ve already crossed these bridges collectively as it relates to lead exposure,” she says. “It’s not ‘don’t use a broom.’ It’s ‘don’t dry sweep.’” She says with such basic tools as sprayers put to use, “A little bit goes a long way, and a little bit of water is a lot less expensive and a lot less collateral damage than dry sweeping.”

Public hearings have concluded on April 4, and OSHA is still forging ahead. “Members of the public who submitted a timely notice of intent to appear at the hearings will be able to submit post-hearing comments until June 3, 2014, and post-hearing briefs until July 18, 2014,” according to an OSHA spokesperson. “OSHA will then review all materials in the rulemaking record and will prepare a final rule based on the evidence in the record to send to [the Office of Management and Budget] for review.”

A target date has not been established for issuing a final rule, according to OSHA.

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