OSHA's Silica Rule Sets Few Training Requirements

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By Bruce Rolfsen

April 5 — In the new respirable silica rule, OSHA plays down how much additional training workers will need to comply with the rule's education mandates and provides few specific requirements for training.

OSHA estimates the overall annual cost for training and familiarization at $96 million in 2012 dollars, with the construction industry cost figured to be $89 million.

The rule, released March 25 (81 Fed. Reg. 16,285), cuts the crystalline silica permissible exposure limit (PEL) to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air as a time-weighted average (TWA) for construction, maritime and general industries. However, monitoring must begin when silica is expected to exceed 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air

HazCom, Too

Workers who could be exposed to breathable silica should have already been educated about silica hazards, a requirement for hazard communications programs established by the hazard communications standard (29 C.F.R. 1910.1200), OSHA says in its explanation of needed training.

The silica rule does add the requirement for training specific to workers' jobs. However, OSHA is vague about what training complies with the regulation. For example, the rule doesn't address the use of certifications, third-party auditors or mandatory class hours.

There isn't a specified hours-of-training requirement because the rule is a “performance standard,” the rule says.

Performance-based standards are expected to provide flexibility to accommodate changing practices, incorporate unique situations and fit individual workplaces, OSHA officials have said. Employers have sometimes countered that performance standards leave too much leeway for inspectors to decide training wasn't adequate and issue citations.

Things to Know

According to the rule (RIN 1218-AB70), the amount of training for personnel will vary by worksite and depend on what is required for employees to “demonstrate knowledge and understanding” of :

  • respirable silica hazards;
  • specific tasks at the worksite that could result in silica exposure;
  • protection measures initiated by the employer, such as wet sawing;
  • knowledge of the employer's medical surveillance program and
  • for construction sites, the identity of the workplace's “competent person.”

    One Hour?

    Training for newly hired workers should take about one hour for each employee, OSHA estimates. However, the training time could be shorter for workers previously employed in the same industry.

    As for the costs, OSHA believes that in many cases the training will be done in-house and won't require companies to bring in outside instructors.

    The cost for teaching newly hired workers at general industry and maritime locations should range between about $31 and $47 per employee, OSHA says. Most of the cost is attributed to the workers being paid to take the training and inhouse instructor costs.

    For construction companies, estimated cost per student for initial training ranges from about $38 to $56.

    In comments to OSHA while the rule was being written, some employers complained the agency wasn't taking into consideration the costs of developing instructional materials.

    In the final rule, OSHA largely dismissed the concerns, saying that many industry groups already have courses focused on silica. OSHA estimates the cost of instructional materials at $2.10 per student.

    Specialized Training

    In addition, to the new-hire training, specialized training will be need for some workers, OSHA says.

    Construction companies will have to train some experienced employees to become qualified as a “competent person” to oversee day-to-day implementation of a worksite's written compliance plan. Classes should last about two hours, OSHA estimates.

    For the whole construction sector, the annual cost for training a competent person is estimated to be $15 million, OSHA says. The cost per company would vary with size. A small construction company with fewer than 20 workers would need to spend about $176 to make one worker a competent person, while the cost for medium-sized companies would be about $105 per student.

    Many workers will also require training on how to wear and use respirators. OSHA estimates the cost of training each worker required to wear a respirator will be $70.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at brolfsen@bna.com

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com.

    For More Information

    The final rule is available at http://src.bna.com/dHU.

    OSHA cost estimates for training and other rule requirements are available at http://src.bna.com/dSR.