Will the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Proposed Standards for Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica Reduce Workplace Risk?

Crystalline 200
by Susan E. Dudley, Director, & Andrew P. Morriss, Affiliated Scholar
March 26, 2015

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing regulations to amend existing standards for occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica by establishing a new permissible exposure limit as well as a series of ancillary provisions for controlling exposure. This article briefly reviews OSHA's proposed regulatory approach and the statutory authority on which it is based. It then evaluates OSHA's preliminary determination of significant risk and its analysis of the risk reduction achievable by its proposed controls. It recognizes that OSHA faces multiple challenges in devising a regulatory approach that reduces exposures and health risks and meets its statutory goal. However, the greatest challenge to reducing risks associated with silica exposure is not the lack of incentives (for either employers or employees) but rather lack of information, particularly information on the relative toxicity of different forms of silica. The article finds that OSHA's proposed rule would contribute little in the way of new information, particularly since it is largely based on information that is at least a decade old—a significant deficiency, given the rapidly changing conditions observed over the last 45 years. The article concludes with recommendations for alternative approaches that would be more likely to generate information needed to improve worker health outcomes.

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