It's been nearly 40 years since NIOSH recommended that OSHA dramatically reduce the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica.
And it will be at least several months before OSHA finalizes its newly proposed silica-exposure rule, which calls for industry to adopt NIOSH's decades-old recommendation.
OSHA, however, believes that the very act of proposing the rule should have an immediate impact.
"We know that [the proposed rule] will encourage manufacturers to produce materials, to produce equipment that will help reduce exposure," OSHA chief David Michaels told EHS Today at the 29th Annual National VPPPA Conference in Nashville. "We know that employers will start using that equipment in anticipation of the rule.
"And so we believe that from just issuing the rule, we'll already see some impact."
On Aug. 23, OSHA unveiled a proposed rule that would cut the permissible exposure limit in general industry, construction and shipyards to 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air.
The current silica-exposure limit in general industry is 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air, and the limit in construction is even higher.
OSHA estimates that 2.2 million workers – most of them in construction – are exposed to silica dust on the job.
The agency says its proposed rule would save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year, "once the full effects of the rule [were] realized."
That will take some time.
The next step is for the proposed rule to appear in the Federal Register. When that happens, the agency will accept comments for 90 days, as part of a rulemaking process that's somewhat unique to OSHA.
"Then we will have hearings in early March," Michaels explained, adding that "OSHA hearings are unique events in that anyone who testifies has the right to cross-examine anyone else who testifies."
"And then we'll have a post-hearing comment period," Michaels said. "So there will be multiple opportunities for our stakeholders to weigh in."
In a presentation at the National VPPPA Conference in Nashville, Michaels urged employers and other stakeholders to offer their input on the proposed rule.
"We are eager to hear from them to see if this proposal makes sense," Michaels told EHS Today.