OSHA’s Rules on Silica, Record-Keeping on Target

By Roy Maurer May 29, 2015
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) expected final rules limiting exposure to crystalline silica and tracking workplace injuries and illnesses remain on track, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Spring 2015 Regulatory Agenda, published May 21, 2015.

Additionally, the agency’s once-moribund combustible dust rulemaking has been revived, while its infectious disease proposal has been pushed back to December 2016.

The latest agenda contains 23 regulatory entries: Seven in the pre-rule stage, eight proposed rules and eight final rules. The entries signal OSHA’s rulemaking priorities in the waning years of the Obama administration.

Silica Proposal Comments Still Under Review

OSHA is moving toward a final rule to regulate silica, but still is not ready to commit to a target date. By June 2015, the agency plans to complete its review of solicited comments.

After publishing a proposed rule on workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica in August 2013, OSHA received more than 1,700 comments from the public and testimony from over 200 stakeholders during public hearings.

OSHA proposed lowering the permissible exposure limit for quartz, the most common form of crystalline silica, to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down from roughly 100 micrograms in general industry and from 250 micrograms in construction and shipyards. The proposal also contains ancillary provisions—updated requirements for exposure assessment and control, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and record-keeping—to match the lowered limit. The agency estimates that the proposed rule would ultimately save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually. The Mine Safety and Health Administration intends to use information provided by OSHA to undertake its own regulatory action related to silica exposure in mines.

Controversial Record-Keeping Rule Slated for Fall

The final rule that would require employers with 20 or more workers to electronically file their OSHA 300 and 301 forms as often as quarterly and also allow OSHA to post summaries of each employer’s log on the agency’s website is scheduled for September 2015.

According to the regulatory agenda, “the collection of establishment-specific injury and illness data in electronic format on a timely basis is needed to help OSHA, employers, employees, researchers and the public more effectively prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.”

OSHA’s proposal to amend its record-keeping regulations to clarify that maintaining accurate records of occupational injuries and illnesses is an ongoing obligation is scheduled for this month. The change would allow OSHA to cite employers for record-keeping violations that are up to five years old, instead of the current six-month limit. It was prompted by a 2012 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that OSHA couldn’t cite an employer for alleged record-keeping violations that exceeded the six-month statute of limitations, as stated in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Beryllium Rule Missing in Action

The long-awaited proposed rule on reducing worker exposure to beryllium—a carcinogen that, when inhaled over time, can lead to chronic lung disease—was supposed to be the first OSHA proposal out of the gate at the start of 2015. It has been stalled for nearly nine months at the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is supposed to complete its review of rules within 90 days. Safety advocacy groups and lawmakers have been urging the White House to complete its review and open the rule for public comment.

Dust Rule Makes a Long-Shot Comeback

OSHA has brought its combustible dust rulemaking back from the long-term action list. A small business review is set for February 2016.

The National Fire Protection Association may publish its new combustible dust standard, NFPA 652, by the end of September. The NFPA standard is expected to be a model for OSHA’s proposal.

Slips, Trips, Falls

Slow progress continues on OSHA’s proposed rule aimed at preventing slips and falls, which was first proposed in 1990. The final rule addressing slip, trip and fall hazards and establishing requirements for personal fall protection systems is now scheduled for August 2015. But it hasn’t even been to the Office of Management and Budget yet.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 724 workers died from slips, trips and falls in 2013.

Infectious Diseases

OSHA’s infectious diseases rulemaking, identified as a priority during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, has been moved back to the agency’s long-term action list.

OSHA completed its small business review process on a possible rule in January 2015 and aims to publish a proposed rule by December 2016, which would leave its fate at the mercy of the next administration.

OSHA expects to complete its review of its bloodborne pathogens standard by September 2015. The review was begun in 2009. The agency is considering the continued need for the rule, whether it is duplicative or conflicts with other regulations, and the degree to which technology, economic conditions, or other factors may have changed since the standard went into effect in 1992.

Other Items

Employers should take note that the proposed rule revising OSHA’s crane operator qualification and training requirements has been delayed nine months to December 2015, and a proposed rule covering new respirator fit-testing protocols is slated for July 2015.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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