A funny thing happened when representatives of U.S. foundries met on March 12 with White House officials to complain about a not-yet-proposed worker safety regulation. The industry group seemed to forget that the targets of their complaints are contained in their own best practices publication.
The American Foundry Society (AFS) requested the meeting with the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to discuss a draft proposed rule by the Labor Department’s OSHA to protect workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica. AFS argued that machinery, ventilation and other engineering improvements will be costly for foundries to implement if OSHA mandates reductions in workers’ exposure to silica. But AFS didn’t go to OIRA to complain specifically about those items. In a document prepared for the meeting and a 30-page cost analysis attached to it, AFS focused their complaint on the following “ancillary provisions” they expect in the proposed OSHA regulation:
- Exposure monitoring
- Health screening and surveillance
- Clothing and hygiene facilities
- Regulated (restricted) work areas
- Housekeeping requirements
- Respirator use and programs
- Hazard communication and training
- Silica competent person
AFS contends that the combined cost of these provisions would be substantial, from an estimated $352 million to nearly $500 million for U.S. foundries. Some of these same requirements, however, are topics considered “essential” in AFS’s own “Control of Silica Exposure in Foundries.” This AFS best practices document outlines the “essential elements for success of any air contaminants program,” which include exposure monitoring, housekeeping, respiratory protection and medical monitoring.
Is this another example of a trade association or employer giving lip service to worker safety, but when industry “best practices” are proposed as regulations they draw fierce opposition? Or is the AFS’s apparent inconsistency just a matter of the devil being in the details?
Well, those are the kind of inquiries that could be made of the AFS during the public rulemaking process, and OSHA’s process is just the sort to do the probing. During the agency’s public hearings, participant not only offer testimony, but can be cross-examined by other participants, as well as by OSHA staff. An administrative law judge oversees the entire proceeding, which may carry on for several months. But for two years now, the Obama White House has barred this interactive process from taking place. No explanation is given. White House spokespeople simply say “we do not comment on rules under review.”
These reviews, pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 12866 and EO 13563, are supposed to take 90 days. OIRA’s review of OSHA’s draft proposed rule on crystalline silica has dragged on for more than 800 days.
The AFS clearly has something to say about foundry workers’ exposure to respirable silica. It’s the second time that representatives of the metal casting industry have met with OMB about the yet-to-be-proposed OSHA rule. The first time was in March 2011 when they joined a group organized by the American Chemistry Council. But more importantly, AFS has unique expertise when it comes to respirable silica exposure and control in foundries. Their members in the metal casting industry use between 6 and 10 million tons of foundry sand annually. It was under a cooperative agreement with OSHA that the trade association developed the 80-page guide “Control of Silica Exposure in Foundries.” The document includes silica-control success stories from four foundries. Why doesn’t the Administration want to allow the official rulemaking forum to take place? Stakeholders and OSHA staff could ask AFS to elaborate on their views about exposure monitoring, housekeeping and other sound practices, and how they jive with the worker safety standard being proposed.
The AFS’s closed door meeting on March 12 was the tenth one on this yet-to-be proposed OSHA regulation. The industry group prepared a 30-page cost analysis on what they think will be in a proposed OSHA rule on respirable crystalline silica. I hope the Administration officials will see the absurdity in that, and finally allow the public comment period and hearings to begin on the real thing.