Impact of New OSHA Silica Rule on Oil, Gas Industry Uncertain
The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) reports it is “troubled” that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did not convene a small business advocacy review panel for upstream oil and gas when it issued its long-awaited final rule on occupational exposure to crystalline silica.
The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) requires OSHA to convene a review panel when making such decisions. Because no panel was convened, it’s uncertain what the long-term cost impact of the rule on the oil and gas industry will be, IPAA Executive Vice President Lee Fuller in a March 24 press statement.
“The purpose of the panel is to examine costs, impacts and possible alternatives to minimize the adverse impacts regulations can have on small businesses,” Fuller stated. “Ideally, one of the results of such a review would be a better understanding of the cost impacts and potential job losses, which might result from today’s rule.”
OSHA unveiled its final rule Thursday to improve protections for workers exposed to respirable silica dust. OSHA said in a March 24 press statement that the rule “will curb lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in America’s workers by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica.”
Once it takes effect, OSHA expects the rule to save more than 600 lives each year and prevent over 900 new cases of silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – each year. OSHA also estimates the final rule will provide net benefits of approximately $7.7 billion per year.
According to OSHA, about 2.3 million workers face exposure to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers who drill and cut silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries and hydraulic fracturing. OSHA stated that most employers can limit harmful dust exposure by using equipment that is widely available – generally using water to keep dust from getting into the air or a ventilation system to capture dust where it is created.
Fuller said IPAA recognized the importance of worker safety in the rule. IPAA has emphasized the critical role personal protective equipment plays in achieving IPAA’s goal of eliminating worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
“The fact that consistent, widespread use of respirators as an effective primary line of defense is validated with today’s rule, which allows the use of those respirators while industry continues to make the necessary investments into the research and development of effective, affordable engineering controls,” Fuller commented.
In comments to the U.S. Department of Labor in February 2014, IPAA and the American Petroleum Institute both stated the rule would create profound detrimental economic consequences on companies large and small “as they struggle to implement this burdensome rule.”
An OSHA spokesperson told Rigzone that the agency conducted in October 2003 a SBREFA panel on the draft of the occupational exposure to crystalline silica rule. Under the final rule – 40 years in the making – the oil and gas hydraulic fracturing industry has given five years to implement the rules. While the engineering controls to curb crystalline silica exposure are available, they are not yet widely disseminated.
“This is a new industry, not like the construction industry, where tools such as wetsaws are ubiquitous,” OSHA spokesperson Brian Hawthorne told Rigzone.
He said that the agency will be available to work with the industry over that five-year period to help oil and gas companies implement the new standards.
OSHA said the final rule would improve worker protection by reducing the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift. It would require employers to use engineering controls such as water or ventilation and work practices to limit worker exposure, and provide respiratory protection when controls are not able to limit exposure to the permissible level.
Additionally, the rule will:
- Limit access to high exposure areas, train workers, and provide medical exams to highly exposed workers
- Provide greater certainty and ease of compliance to construction employers – including many small employers – by including a table of specific controls they can follow to be in compliance, without having to monitor exposures
- Stagger compliance dates to ensure employers have sufficient time to meet the requirements, such as extra time for the hydraulic fracturing industry to install new engineering controls and for all general industry employers to offer medical surveillance to employees exposed between the PEL [permissible exposure limit] and 50 micrograms per cubic meter and the action level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter
OSHA wrote the final rule as two standards – one for construction, and one for general industry and maritime. The oil and gas industry is covered under the general industry and maritime version of the rule. Employers covered by the construction standard will have until June 23, 2017 to comply with most requirements. Employers covered by the general industry and maritime standard have until June 23, 2018 to comply with most requirements.
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