Obama Administration Issues Rule to Limit Exposure to Silica Dust

Monday, April 25, 2016

Wall Street Journal (03/25/16) P. B5 Trottman, Melanie

The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued its new silica rule that sets exposure limits on crystalline silica — a dust found in rock, sand, and other materials — for workers in construction, hydraulic fracking, glassmaking, foundary work, and other sectors. OSHA first introduced the rule in 2013, contending the dust was a threat to nearly 2.3 million U.S. workers. The Labor Department said the new limit for all industries affected by the rule will be 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift, and each year that the rule is in effect, it will save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis. Many businesses oppose the rule as too costly and not justified by the risk. Employers will be required to use one or more of a variety of methods to control the dust, including engineering controls, such as keeping materials wet to prevent dust from becoming airborne or having vacuums that pull the dust from breathing zones. If those steps do not work, employers will have to use respirators, limit worker access to areas where high levels of dust are located, and provide medical exams to monitor those who are highly exposed. "The Obama administration believes in science," said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. "Today the public policy is catching up with the science." The Labor Department estimates the rule will result in net benefits of about $7.7 billion a year and have annualized costs of $1,500 for the average workplace, or less for smaller employers.

Melanie Trottman 4/25/2016

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