The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published its final rule on “Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica” (the “Silica Rule”) on March 25, 2016, and as expected numerous manufacturing industry trade groups and others have filed legal challenges to the rule’s validity. With the outcome of these challenges uncertain, manufacturers and other affected industries are currently subject to the compliance deadlines established in the Silica Rule—June 23, 2017 for the construction industry and June 23, 2018 for general industry and maritime. Given the potential costs of compliance and penalties for noncompliance, manufacturers and other regulated industries should consider starting their compliance planning process now, while also following the progress of legal challenges to the Silica Rule to help avoid unnecessary cost in the event it is overturned.
In general, the Silica Rule both lowers the acceptable levels for employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica and requires employers to implement proactive measures to reduce such exposure. Respirable crystalline silica, or “silica dust,” is a potential issue for manufacturers and numerous other industries, as OSHA notes that exposure to crystalline silica occurs in “common workplace operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of concrete, brick, block, rock, and stone products . . . and operations using sand products (such as in glass manufacturing, foundries, sand blasting, and hydraulic fracturing).” Additional detail regarding the Silica Rule’s requirements is available here, and in general there is concern among industry members that these requirements impose significant costs on regulated entities that OSHA did not properly consider and which will have a negative impact on the manufacturing, construction, and other affected industries (and particularly small- to medium-sized entities in those industries).
As of this writing there were at least seven different challenges filed in six different U.S. federal courts of appeals across the country, all of which OSHA is seeking to consolidate into a single case. Regardless of whether the cases are consolidated, it is possible the challengers will request that the Silica Rule be stayed while the legal proceedings run their course. For that reason, manufacturers and other regulated entities should follow these proceedings closely, as their outcome may impact compliance planning and related business considerations.