It’s rare enough to read about OSHA in the New York Times, but the front page of the Business Section?  Reading my coffee Saturday morning, this was the headline:  New Rules Would Cut Silica Dust Exposure.  So, this is news, and pretty big news.  OSHA’s taken its time, but on Friday, it finally announced its proposed, updated rule that would change the 40-year old permissible exposure limits (PELs), and otherwise protect workers from exposure to silica, specifically crystalline silica particles.

According to the Centers for Disease Control,

 At least 1.7 million U.S. workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in a variety of industries and occupations, including construction, sandblasting, and mining. Silicosis, an irreversible but preventable disease, is the illness most closely associated with occupational exposure to the material, which also is known as silica dust. Occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica are associated with the development of silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and airways diseases. These exposures may also be related to the development of autoimmune disorders, chronic renal disease, and other adverse health effects.

 Besides lowering the PELs, the proposed rule will set consistent PELs across industries; currently, the construction standard provides for a PEL more than twice that of the general industry standard.

Perhaps not surprisingly, labor has applauded the announcement, while business groups, such as the American Chemistry Council, have suggested change is not needed.

The public has 90 days to comment on the proposed rules OSHA’s website on silica contains factsheets describing the proposed changes, and how to submit comments.