Recently published proposals for
new crystalline silica safety standards have been met with
stiff opposition from several industry bodies, which claim they
are not justified.
The US Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) published in late August proposals
for two new crystalline silica safety standards aimed at
reducing the risks of working in an environment where silica
particles are present.
In a move that could potentially
affect several industrial minerals markets, the OSHA has
proposed a new permitted exposure level (PEL) for respirable
crystalline silica, together with new provisions for measuring
how much silica workers are exposed to.
Exposure to silica can be
deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential, Dr David
Michaels, assistant secretary for labour at the OSHA, said.
This proposal is expected to
prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis - an incurable and
progressive disease - as well as lung cancer, other respiratory
diseases and kidney disease. Were looking forward to
public comment on the proposal, he added.
At present, the OSHA enforces PELs
for crystalline silica that were originally adopted in
For industrial minerals markets,
such as construction and general sand industries, the current
PEL is 100 micrograms respirable crystalline silica per cubic
metre of air during an eight-hour period
The administration maintains that
this level of exposure does not adequately protect
workers and that the existing boundaries are
outdated, inconsistent and hard to understand as
different levels apply to different industries.
OSHA recommends that the PEL should
be reduced to 50 micrograms respirable crystalline silica per
cubic metre of air (0.05mg/m3 air) during an
eight-hour period and should apply to all industries - general,
maritime and construction.
It is this area of the proposed
ruling that has been met with contention from industry bodies,
which argue that it is not justified.
The National Industrial Sand
Association (NISA) reacted to the announcement by saying that
it opposes the suggestion to lower the PEL because [the
current PEL] has been proven protective.
NISA companies have
demonstrated that silicosis can be prevented when exposures are
maintained consistently below the 0.1mg/m3 PEL.
Lowering the PEL is not justified, the association
Further complicating this
issue is the fact that crystalline silica cannot be measured
accurately at levels significantly below the current PEL, given
existing analytical techniques, NISA added.
Industrial Minerals Association -
North America (IMA-NA) told IM that its
position on the PEL is consistent with NISAs
A lower PEL will not
contribute to safer workplaces, and will have catastrophic
economic impacts across a broad spectrum of industries, a
statement from IMA-NA said.
In fact, an analysis by the
American Chemistry Council Crystalline Silica Panel indicates
that the total economic impact of halving the current PEL would
amount to $5.45bn/year, it added.
In the construction industry, the
National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) also
suggests that reducing the PEL is not the way forward.
We believe that
silica-related diseases are preventable by maintaining
workplace exposures below the current OSHA and Mine Safety
& Health Administration PELs, the association
Better compliance with, and
more effective enforcement of, the current PELs should be
achieved before consideration is given to reducing PELs,
The secondary element of
OSHAs proposed rule includes provisions for measuring how
much silica workers are exposed to, as well as limiting
workers access to areas where silica exposures are
This element of the rule will be
managed in different ways for the construction industry, and
general industry and maritime, in order to allow employers to
tailor solutions according to their workplace.
In general, the rule will be
managed by adopting new safety standards, providing medical
exams and training workers about silica-related hazards.
NISA, IMA-NA and NSSGA all agree
with this ruling.
We continue to support
reasonable and appropriate monitoring or other exposure
assessments and medical surveillance of employees who are
potentially exposed to significant levels of crystalline
silica, the NSSGA said.
IMA-NA believes that the OSHA
comprehensive silica standard should mandate that general
industry employers, whose workers are exposed to respirable
crystalline silica above the AL, must conduct dust monitoring
of the air their workers breathe, and must retain records of
that monitoring, IMA-NA suggests.
In addition, the new standard
should require that when workers are exposed above the AL,
employers must provide periodic medical surveillance that
includes a chest X-ray, and must keep records of that
surveillance, the association added.
OSHA legislation relies heavily on
input from the public and the agency will conduct extensive
engagement to gather feedback from the public through both
written and oral comments for 90 days following publication in
the Federal Register. This will be followed by public
Once public hearings conclude,
members of the public, who filed a notice of intention to
appear, can then submit additional post-hearing comments.
Industrial minerals impact
To discover more about how
this ruling might affect the industrial minerals industries
specifically, IM spoke to Joey Chbeir, general counsel and
director of operations at Industrial Project Solutions, which
provides design-build services to the US frac sand
What do you think about the
proposal to reduce the PEL from 0.10mg/m3 to
First and foremost, it is important
to mention that OSHAs proposed limits would apply across
the board (industry, construction, and shipyards). Thus,
uniformity is somehow welcomed. Moreover, the proposed rule is
expressed as a gravimetric measurement of respirable
crystalline silica, which is easier to understand (when
compared with the existing formula that is based on accounting
for crystalline silica content of the dust sampled).
However, we do not believe that
halving the PELs is needed. Silicosis could be prevented as
long as employers are complying with the current
100μg/m3 PEL. OSHA should focus on ancillary
measures when exposures exceed 50μg/m3 (the
lowest feasible PEL). Such measures could include establishing
exposure assessment, respiratory protection, hazard
communication medical surveillance, and record keeping for
workplaces where crystalline silica exposures exceed. Remember
that 100μg/m3 is the current limit in the UK.
How will this type of
ruling affect US companies working with silica
Generally speaking, regulations
will always impact companies; some will profit, others will
lose. This ruling may appear to benefit companies involved in
providing engineering controls, such as IPS; however, the
problem with continuously adding restrictive regulations is
that you will eventually run out of profitable businesses. In
some cases, correcting the problem will involve shutting down
operations and re-configuring systems. The effect could be
detrimental to some companies.
We have no doubt that the proposed
limits, if implemented, would impose costs on the US companies
working with silica sand. The numbers we have seen range
between $1bn and $5bn per annum.
We believe that companies that have
been dealing with silica sand for years would not be
substantially affected, as they have standards similar to the
OSHA proposals. Unfortunately, small businesses that are
resource-constrained or with limited silica sand experience are
at a disadvantage; these businesses would have to expend a lot
of their resources on the initial high cost of compliance and
the cost of implementing some of the ancillary measures
(medical surveillance and exposure monitoring when exposure
Do you think this will have
a great impact on industrial mineral markets such as hydraulic
This proposed standard would put a
lot of pressure on smaller companies with limited silica sand
experience. In the past 10 years, due to the use of sand in
hydraulic fracturing, we have seen the consumption
exponentially increase. In fact, the consumption of silica sand
in hydraulic fracturing went from about 4m s.tons in 2005 to
about 28m s.tons in 2012.
According to the annual USGS
reports, between 2005 and 2013, about 22 companies entered the
sand production market - the number of companies went from 65
to 87 between 2005 and 2013, respectively. With such high
demand, the market had to adjust as numerous players that were
inexperienced in handling sand entered the market.
As a result, many of these
operations did not have the right engineering controls to
protect the employees from exposure that exceeded the current
PELs. Unfortunately, we believe that a lot of these companies
(whether on the production, storage, or transloading/transport
of frac sand) wont be able to compete due to pressure
from low frac sand prices and the proposed exposure limits,
which, if implemented, would require them to invest in new
equipment. We definitely believe that the hydraulic fracturing
industry will be impacted, but employees will only benefit if
the employer can stay in business.
The Hazard Alert jointly issued by
OSHA and NIOSH in June of 2012 indicates that the exposure to
silica at the well site exceeded the 100μg/m3 in
numerous cases. Moreover, the Hazard Alert discussed numerous
options that could be used to control dust at the well site. If
these companies could not maintain the exposure below the
current PELs, they will definitely not be able to meet the
Thus, there is no doubt that this
proposed regulation, if implemented, will come at a price that
would impact the industry.
How likely to do you think
it is that these rulings will be passed?
OSHA has been trying to amend the
current PELs for years, and it will eventually succeed. I am
not sure that the current proposed PELs will be implemented,
particularly when the cost of implementation comes at a hefty
price and the US economy is still trying to recover from a
recession. Even if the proposed limits pass, OSHA has already
mentioned a possible five-year grace period.
Do you think it would be
more beneficial to increase the safety standards of workplaces
where crystalline silica exposure levels are high before
reducing the PEL?
The current PELs were implemented
in 1971. Since then, occupational exposures to silica and
silicosis mortality rates have continuously declined.
Regrettably, a small number of
workers is still being diagnosed with silicosis or silica
related diseases, but not all workplaces comply with the OSHA
Therefore, we do believe that increasing the safety
standards of workplaces where silica exposure is above the
current PEL would be much more beneficial than halving the
current limits. At the end of the day, silicosis should not be
an issue when exposures are maintained consistently below the
current 100μg/m3 PEL and measures are taken when
exposures exceed 50μg/m3.