According to an announcement by attorneys Bradford T. Hammock and Henry Chajet, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has finally sent its comprehensive rule governing worker exposure to silica dust to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final review.
Clearing the OMB is one of the the last official hurdles the "silica rule" needs before becoming, well, a "rule." Up until this point it's only been a "proposed rule." In effect, an OSHA rule is law.
The Hammmock-Chajet announcement includes an interesting brief history of the OSHA silica rule, including mention that, while silicosis (the lung disease the rule is trying to curtail) can be fatal, "data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health shows a steady decline in fatalities from silicosis since 1968."
OSHA has been pushing the silica rule for years, and despite persistent opposition from construction industry representatives - a battle about which Charles Wardell writing in Remodeling provides keen insight for residential building processionals. One of the chief problems Wardell points to is that the rule might be applied quite broadly. Big industry is clearly a target, particularly where sand blasting, rock drilling or ceramic and glass manufacturing are involved. In the construction industry the silica rule certainly applies to folks working in almost any capacity with concrete and masonry. The rule could also be applied to folks installing and finishing drywall, and cutting fiber-cement siding, but how pointed that attention will be from OSHA is still anybody's guess. Eric Kimbel, a Pittsburgh construction attorney, is quoted by Wardell as saying after reading the proposed rule: “Say you’re sweeping up drywall dust. Are you going to need a HEPA vac? It’s not clear.”
Despite questions of how broadly the rule might be applied in the construction industry, silica dust control measures boil down to wearing a half-face respirator and using water or vacuums to dampen dust exposure. Silica dust particles are not super fine like asbestos so common sense says that even a paper dust mask is going to help limit exposure, and possibly save you or one of your workers from hacking up a lung in old age.
Granted, where OSHA is concerned it's often not the control methods, but the paper-work to document and implement employee management policies that present the biggest burden to construction firms. Once the rule clears the OMB, prudent firms will need to make some effort to ensure that the control measures are implemented and documented on job sites - no small task with no real understanding yet as to how deep the effort must extend.
At least one thing that is growing clearer with the announcement that the silica has been sent to the OMB: the prediction when the silica rule would pass. Wardell quoted Fred Hosier, editor of Safety News Alert saying the likely time-frame would be "after the November 2016 election but before President Obama leaves office in January 2017. Increasingly that prediction is proving accurate.