Thursday, February 26, 2015

Increased Silicosis Limitations for Countertop Industry May Be a Forgone Conclusion

While many of you are undoubtedly dealing with issues stemming from the severe cold and snow, you have probably also  been alerted to another concern from several authoritative sources, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Marble Institute of America (MIA) and the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC). 
The saga began in August 2013 when federal OSHA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in regards to respirable crystalline Silica, which is known to directly cause several serious health conditions, including silicosis, lung cancer and kidney disease. Because granite is largely made up of quartz (silica), soon afterward, the MIA and Natural Stone Council (NSC) began to support the efforts of the CISC in opposing the proposed rule, which would lower the allowable exposure rate from 250 mcg/ cubic meter (m3) of air to 50 mcg/m3.

The following March, public hearings were held to collect input about the proposed rule change. The CISC was very active in its effort to oppose the rule change, citing that lowering levels is technologically infeasible, economically infeasible and unnecessary. Since the end of the public hearings, nothing more was heard until a report was issued by the CDC on February 13 of this year stating that the United States has joined Italy, Spain and Israel as countries where cases of silicosis have been confirmed to be attributed to countertop fabrication, specifically to engineered stone or quartz surfacing.

According to the article, the Texas Department of State Health "reported the first case of silicosis associated with exposure to quartz surfacing materials in North America." It went on to say that the increased use of silica-containing materials poses greater risk of silica exposure.

Only one week after the CDC report was published, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued an official Hazard Alert regarding Worker Exposure to Silica during Countertop Manufacturing, Finishing and Installation.  

According to the MIA, these Hazard Alerts are a precursor of an impending rule change, which means that they exposure limit may soon be lowered to 50 mcg/m3 when dealing with all silica-containing countertop materials - granite, quartz surfacing, quartzite, etc. According to the alert, silica exposure "can be mitigated with simple and effective dust controls in most countertop operations."

At this point, it seems that very little can be done to prevent the new rule from being implemented. OSHA is expected to continue analyzing the 10,000 pages of comments the organization has received through the middle of this year, but new information and comments are no longer being officially considered.

Please stay tuned to for further information concerning this issue, and be aware that specific safety measures must be taken in order to comply with the current rule, which is already lower than the federal limit in several states, such as Oregon and California.

For more information about federal and state silica limits or how to comply with these limits, please contact your state OSHA office, a trusted independent consultant or publications provided by industry trade associations, such as Silicosis: An Industry Guide to Awareness and Prevention, published by the MIA. 

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