Rural Electric Cooperatives Seeking More Compliance Time

March 18, 2014- Proposed rule-making on occupational exposure to crystalline silica by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is again in the news.

OSHA's draft rule is an effort to protect workers from breathing harmful amounts of crystalline silica, a form of quartz commonly found in granite, sand, soil and many other minerals.

In a post titled "OSHA Rule Demands More Compliance Time" on the website, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) makes the argument that the proposed rule should not apply to generation and transmission (G&T) cooperatives.

In a letter filed with OSHA on February 11, the last day of an extended comment period, the NRECA requested that employees of G&Ts be exempt from a rule proposed to limit exposure to crystalline silica, a basic component in soil.

Following an extensive review of the new requirements, the NRECA added that G&T co-ops should be given more time to comply with the rule.

Salient points in the NRECA post included:

• Analysis of work processes suggests that employees of electric distribution co-ops may be exposed to crystalline silica when moving earth, but because the work is conducted outdoors in the open air, the exposure is insignificant.

• Potential sources of breathable crystalline silica for G&T employees include activities involving coal ash, coal, sand blasting, concrete and cement.

• In order to allow for a wide review by all stakeholders, electric co-ops are requesting that the comment period be extended to Jan. 27, 2015.

• "OSHA took approximately 10 years and 1 month to review applicable materials, develop the standards and complete the required reviews,” said Martha Duggan, NRECA senior principal of regulatory affairs. “NRECA recommends that OSHA allow stakeholders adequate time to review and assess the wealth of material provided by OSHA in support of the proposed rule."

• Currently, OSHA is proposing a two-year start-up period to give laboratories the time necessary to get equipped to meet the new requirements for accreditation and testing. The NRECA said it "strongly recommends that OSHA phase in the rule in such a way that the laboratories achieve compliance before employers are required to comply."

• It was 40 years ago when OSHA last updated its permissible exposure limits for crystalline silica.

Read the full NRECA post here. The NRECA's comments to OSHA may be found here.

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