On March 24, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized its workplace exposure standard for crystalline silica (quartz) for general industry that would sharply reduce the existing permissible exposure limit (PEL).
The rule, which has been one of the agency’s top priorities, lowers the PEL from the current standard of 100 micrograms per cubic meter to 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter, with an action level of 25 over an eight-hour time period. It provides two years to come into compliance. The rule also requires metalcasting facilities to implement a wide variety of administration and engineering controls, including requirements for initial and periodic exposure assessments, regulated and restricted work areas, engineering and work practice exposure controls, respiratory protection, employee medical surveillance, employee training and recordkeeping.
Specifically, the rule requires employers to develop a written exposure control plan. In addition, OSHA’s final rule mandates a hierarchy of control measures requiring installation of engineering and workplace controls, even if not effective, over the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators, and it continues to bar job rotation as a method of attaining compliance with the new PEL.
"Our industry needs a rule that is based on real world manufacturing conditions that is technologically and economically feasible to implement and unfortunately this rule does not fit that bill," said Jerry Call, CEO, AFS.
AFS provided comprehensive comments to OSHA throughout the rulemaking process, which began in the fall of 2013, including a detailed overview of the flawed cost estimates for compliance for the metalcasting industry, as well significant technological feasibility concerns. OSHA estimated the cost on the metalcasting industry to be $43 million; an independent economist projected the cost to be more than $2.2 billion annually. This represents 9.9% of the foundry industry’s revenue and 276% of its profits.
In addition, AFS worked with other industry groups that cautioned the agency about other flaws in the rule and urged the federal agency to reconsider its approach.
AFS maintains that the current permissible exposure limit for silica is appropriate and works when it is fully complied with and enforced. The Society will be reviewing the entire rule and providing a comprehensive summary on how the rule impacts the metalcasting industry in the coming weeks. A special education session on this new rule and next steps will be held at CastExpo in Minneapolis on Monday, April 18, at 12:30 p.m.