February 5, 2013

OSHA Plans to Publish Proposed Silica Regulation in 2013

From: Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute

In a meeting attended by ICPI, OSHA announced that it expects to publish the long-waited, much-delayed proposed regulation of crystalized silica exposures in the workplace (the Silica regulation) in May 2013.

So said OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jordan Barab at a January 25 meeting among business lobbying groups.

The rule has been written for some time but has been delayed under review in the White House Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  While OIRA is charged to review proposed regulations for a period of ninety days, the review of the silica regulation is beginning its third year.

Barab confirmed that the regulation will include a section on fracking, apparently confirming rumors that part of the delay was based on an effort to include the controversial drilling technique in the regulation.

If OSHA holds to the current May 2013 publication plan – which is anything but certain given the series of previous delays – the publication will trigger a public comment period in which ICPI will likely participate.

Further, Barab announced that OSHA will hold a series of public hearings across the country, another comment portal in which ICPI may elect to participate.  Such hearings have an unusual format in which witnesses would be allowed to question other witnesses, which might provide an opportunity to challenge the science that will underpin the proposed regulation.  The business community has complained in the past that the concept of a silica regulation is based upon outdated epidemiologic studies that do not represent typical workplace exposures to respirable silica.

OSHA does not plan a new round of SBREFA hearings to re-assess impacts on small business.  However, this is likely to be a point of contention.  The business community may seek to press OSHA to engage a new round of SBREFA hearings.

Barab said that the recent departure of U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will not have an impact on the timing of the silica regulation release.  In more general statements, Barab mentioned that OSHA would continue to work aggressively on enforcement programs, particularly with respect to violations that impact vulnerable workers.

However, OSHA would be substantially impacted if the federal government “sequestration” is allowed to go into effect later this spring.  Sequestration is part of the overall “fiscal cliff” issue that looms over Capitol Hill and the federal government, and which could force agencies like OSHA to make drastic mid-fiscal-year cuts in spending.

While the topic was not discussed openly in the meeting, attendees wondered what impact that sequestration might have on both the OSHA enforcement programs and the release of the proposed regulation on silica.

Clearly, ICPI and its members are stakeholders in the silica regulation.  If OSHA does in fact publish the proposed regulation as currently planned, ICPI will weigh its options and determine the appropriate response at that time, a response which may include review and commentary on ICPI’s own accord and in concert with other business-related organizations that would be impacted.

Further, ICPI has told its political allies on Capitol Hill that the silica regulation may require congressional hearings to examine the economic impacts of the regulation.  ICPI has advised Cong. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, that a silica regulation would be a prime issue for oversight hearings.

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