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Published: August, 2011; Vol 8, Num 3


Debate Explores:

Why is OSHA Updating its Silica Standard?

The question was “why?” but the debate turned on “if it should.”

The LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott Schneider faced off with the Refractories Institute’s Rob Crolius on June 8 in Pittsburgh at the International Bridge Conference. Each offered a perspective and then engaged in a pointed debate in response to questions from the audience. The two presentations and debate may be viewed at these links:

Schneider (16:53)

Schneider Recognized

Also in June, Schneider was recognized by  EHS Today as one of the 50 people who most influenced Environmental Health and Safety in 2010-11.

Crolius (16:49)

Q and A (12:52)

Schneider made the points that silica, more specifically, silica-related disease has long inflicted suffering on construction workers. Acknowledging a sharp drop in reported silicosis deaths in recent decades, Schneider pointed to studies that show how the disease is misdiagnosed and underreported. He reported that NIOSH and others have long insisted that the OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) is far too lenient and that OSHA, itself, announced its intention to lower the limit more than a decade ago. Finally, he noted that remedies are simple and inexpensive.

Crolius, who also serves on the Crystalline Silica Panel of the American Chemistry Council, began by expressing general agreement with Schneider, but his subsequent remarks went in a different direction. Despite saying he favors “silica regulation based on sound science,” he offered no science to support his position. Instead, he cited his own Institute’s speculation that adoption of a new silica standard would cut two million jobs and cost industry more than $3 billion a year, insisting that the present standard is adequate if only it were better enforced. The two butted heads on three points:

  1. Enforcement.Crolius said OSHA has failed to enforce the current standard and that, if it did, the silica problem would largely go away. Schneider said OSHA does not have the resources to thoroughly enforce any standard, so the real issue is establishing a simple, easy-to-understand standard to which responsible employers should adhere.
  2. Costs. Crolius claimed a new standard would hit hard at employers’ pocketbooks and cost the nation jobs. Schneider suggested he was crying wolf because an appropriate standard would identify tasks that require engineering controls and respiratory protection, not require extensive monitoring, that would not be costly to deploy.
  3. Timing. Crolius implied that the Obama Administration might try a political maneuver to enact the new standard between the 2012 election and the Inaugural in 2013. In contrast, Schneider pointed out that adoption of a new standard is a rigorous process that is unlikely to be complete until 2014.

Schneider’s PowerPoint presentation is available here. He also played a two-minute video explanation of the silica danger made by WorkSafeBC and referenced Secretary of Labor Francis Perkin’s 1938 declaration of her department’s intention to end silicosis deaths in the country.

A number of silica-related publications are available from the LHSFNA. Order them through the online catalogue.

[Steve Clark]