OSHA is a step closer to publishing a proposed rule regulating crystalline silica exposure in general industry, construction, and maritime.  OSHA’s proposal has been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review under Executive Order 12866.  This is the final internal review before the proposal gets published in the Federal Register and signals that OSHA’s proposal will be out in early to mid-Summer.

Crystalline silica is ubiquitous, comprising a substantial percentage of the Earth’s crust.  OSHA has evidence that exposure to crystalline silica at the current permissible exposure limit (PEL) causes silicosis and other diseases.  It has been seeking to comprehensively regulate the substance – and reduce the PEL – for over a decade.  In 2003, OSHA completed a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) panel for an early draft version of the rule and has since been preparing regulatory text and background health, risk, and economic data to support the rulemaking.

OSHA’s rulemaking efforts in this area are complicated by the broad scope of the rule — a number of employers in a variety of industries use silica in their operations — as well as technical issues associated with controlling silica exposures.  There are also difficult issues of sampling methodology that the Agency must overcome.  And of course, stakeholders are keenly interested in what ancillary provisions OSHA might propose, such as medical surveillance requirements, housekeeping requirements, and requirements related to regulated areas.

All employers should stay tuned and follow this rulemaking closely, even at this early OMB review stage.  OMB has recently extended its review of a couple of OSHA rulemakings, which have had the effect of delaying publication.  It will be interesting to see how this particular review period proceeds.