January 2, 2014

Ending with a Bang

From: Occupational Health and Safety

By Jerry Laws

Two significant OSHA rulemaking actions in the second half of 2013 could be game-changers for the construction workers and others who may be occupationally exposed to breathing silica dust, as well as to employers across the land. OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels on Aug. 23 announced a proposed rule issued by the agency that would set a new permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day. This rule had been awaiting action at OIRA, the OMB gatekeeper office for proposed federal regulations, for more than a year, so the announcement was major news for employers in construction, natural gas drilling, and some in general industry, as well. Michaels urged the public to participate by visiting www.osha.gov/silica and reading fact sheets about the rule. The current PEL was set in 1971; this lower PEL would apply to construction and general industry, including hydraulic fracturing operations at gas drilling sites. Stakeholders have until Jan. 27 to submit comments. OSHA’s “informal public hearings” about the proposed rule will begin March 18, 2014, in Washington, D.C., and are expected to continue for several weeks.

If it becomes a final rule, the second rulemaking action, in November, makes 2013 a milestone year for recordkeeping changes. This one would require establishments with more than 250 employees that are already required to keep injury records to electronically submit them to OSHA on a quarterly basis and establishments with 20 or more employees in industries with high injury and illness rates to submit each year, electronically, their injury and illness logs. Earlier in the year, OSHA had issued a final rule requiring all federal agencies to submit their injury and illness data to BLS annually.

Michaels said OSHA already collects injury and illness data from 80,000 U.S. private-sector employers and posts the data from 60,000 of them online. He said OSHA will remove identifying information and then post the information online. Michaels said the new submission requirements will enable employers to compare their safety records against peers, will allow workers to know the safety records of potential employers, and aggregating the data across industries will help researchers identify emerging hazards and patterns.

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