OSHA and MSHA Publish RFIs Regarding Silica

September 18, 2019

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have each published a Request for Information (RFI) regarding silica. Covering the construction, general industry, and marine industries, OSHA is looking to refine its existing rules on the topic after promulgating various standards over the past few years. Covering the mining industry, MSHA published notice of proposed rulemaking in 2015, but does not yet have existing rules on the topic. Its RFI is one step closer to promulgating stricter regulations to protect miners.

Studies have shown risks of respirable silica exposure for more than 70 years, and it has been on MSHA’s radar for decades. Since 2010, MSHA identified goals to reduce silica exposures under the Government Performance and Results Act. Silicosis is one of a group of diseases known as “black lung,” which has been on the rise recently in Appalachia; over 20% of long-term miners are now affected. Metal, non-metal, and coal miners can be exposed to the silica dust during drilling, blasting, loading, hauling, crushing, extraction, and/or processing operations. Nearly all rock and ore contains some type of silica, but the amount varies greatly, even within similar mined locations.

There are a variety of recommendations and exposure limits for respirable silica. MSHA currently adopts the 1973 American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) threshold limit values (TLV®): 100 μg silica per 1 m3 of air. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and OSHA now recommend or require an exposure limit of half that, 50 μg/m3 total respirable silica, and ACGIH has since lowered its TLV® to 25 μg/m3 of each type of silica.

Reducing miners’ exposure to dust is typically done by engineering controls such as ventilation or dilution of the environment, administrative control such as limiting access to high risk areas, or personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators. OSHA’s regulations also include dust collection systems and water sprays to limit dust. If MSHA’s exposure limit is reduced to 50 μg/m3 total respirable silica, multiple control techniques may need to be implemented to meet the standard. Upgrading and installing equipment and implementing program will likely be costly and time consuming.

OSHA’s Recent RFI for Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica

On August 15, 2019, OSHA published an RFI on the following topics:

Submit comments and attachments by October 15, 2019 using one of the following methods.

  • Online: via the Federal eRulemaking Portal here
  • Mail: OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA-2010-0034, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-3653, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20210 (Note: Because of security-related procedures, submission by regular mail may result in significant delay)
  • Fax: 202-693-1648

MSHA’s Recent RFI for Respirable Crystalline Silica

On August 29, 2019, MSHA published an RFI on the following topics:

  • Feasible, best practices to protect miners’ health from exposure to quartz in respirable dust;
  • An examination of an appropriately reduced permissible exposure limit (PEL);
  • Protective technologies; and
  • Technical and educational assistance.

Submit comments and informational materials by October 28, 2019 using one of the following methods.

  • Online: via the Federal eRulemaking Portal here
  • Email: zzMSHA-comments@dol.gov
  • Mail: MSHA, Office of Standards, Regulations, and Variances, 201 12th Street South, Suite 4E401, Arlington, VA 22202-5452
  • Fax: 202-693-9441

For More Information

Please call or email Kerry Weichsel, P.E. (412-249-3139 or kweichsel@cecinc.com) or Leah Blinn, E.I.T. (412-249-1607 or lblinn@cecinc.com) for any questions regarding these RFIs or this blog post.

About the Author

Kerry Weichsel

Kerry Weichsel, P.E., is an Assistant Project Manager in CEC's Air Quality Practice at our Pittsburgh headquarters location.

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