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New Silica Dust Proposal Would Have Big Impact on Foundries, Other Manufacturers

The Fabricator
October 2013

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could impose new costs on metal casters and other manufacturers if it moves forward with new workplace exposure rules for crystalline silica, which gets into the air, in the case of foundries, when silica sand molds are broken in order to remove the  cast metal part. The OSHA lists foundry workers as numbering the highest among any general industry category for being exposed to levels of crystalline silica above the current permissible exposure limit (PEL). And only the concrete products sector has more total workers exposed to crystalline silica.

The proposed rule would replace a 40-year-old PEL of 100 micrograms with one set at 50 micrograms and an action level of 25 micrograms. The action level is the standard’s trigger for increased industrial hygiene monitoring and initiation of worker medical surveillance.

Groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers say no new standard is needed because there has been a 93 percent reduction in silicosis mortality from 1968 to 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Silicosis, an incurable sometimes fatal lung disease, is the major health effect caused by crystalline silica exposure.

The costs for all companies subject to the new standard, even those with admirably low current exposure limits, might be substantial given the exposure monitoring, medical monitoring and training costs. The OSHA estimates those to be $630 million for all sectors, total, on an annual, recurring basis. Amanda Wood, Director, Labor and Employment Policy, NAM, says industry estimates are $5 billion. Given the costs of compliance that all companies would face, Wood says the OSHA ought to focus on companies violating the current standard. 

The yawning difference between the OSHA and industry cost estimates may be because the OSHA says the  provisions of the proposed rule "are similar to industry consensus standards that many responsible employers have been using for years, and the technology to better protect workers is already widely available."