On July 20, 2023, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA Standards Board) held its monthly meeting and received public comments on Petition File No. 597, a proposal to amend Title 8, General Industry Safety Orders, Section 5204 of the California Code of Regulations to require stricter control measures concerning respirable crystalline silica exposure for workers in the engineered stone fabrication industry.

Quick Hits

  • The Cal/OSHA Standards Board is considering proposed Petition File No. 597 as an emergency temporary standard that would address the growing number of cases involving workers' exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
  • If approved, the emergency temporary standard would last for twelve months and require stricter measures to control and mitigate this potential risk to workers in the engineered stone fabrication industry.
  • The Board's staff recommended denying the petition, but Cal/OSHA recommended granting it.

Medical professionals—including those from the Western Occupational and Environmental Medical Association (WOEMA), the California Department of Public Health, and a university-affiliated medical center—and labor-side representatives spoke in support of the petition. The petition's supporters emphasized that respirable crystalline silica exposure causes a large number of workers in the engineered stone fabricating industry to suffer from silicosis, an occupational lung disease related to the inhalation of crystalline silica dust. Calling the increased instances of silicosis an epidemic, the supporters argued that enhanced education or enforcement measures would be insufficient. The supporters urged the Cal/OSHA Standards Board to amend the existing regulations via an emergency temporary standard (ETS) that would prohibit fabrication without using water to suppress dust, require airline respirators or power air-purifying respirators for all work involving artificial stone fabrication, increase penalties for silica exposure citations and classify such citations as serious, and mandate that all licensed healthcare professionals report any moderate or severe silicosis diagnoses to Cal/OSHA.

Representatives from the Phylmar Regulatory Roundtable – OSH Forum, Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed), Natural Stone Institute, and others opposed the petition. The opposition stressed that the petition lacked supporting data to justify new, stricter regulations on silica exposure. The opposition also pointed out that the petition's proposed changes would decrease the availability of construction building materials, which in turn would adversely impact California's ongoing housing shortage crisis. The opposition expressed a willingness to cooperate in resolving the silicosis issue, including educating stone fabricating companies on proper techniques and procedures, participating in an advisory committee, and improving enforcement means.

The Cal/OSHA Standards Board will likely have an advisory committee of labor, management, and persons knowledgeable about silicosis review the petition's proposals before granting or denying the petition. The proposed regulation would likely impact many businesses in the manmade stone fabrication business in California.

Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor developments with respect to Petition File No. 597 and will provide updates on the firm's California and Workplace Safety and Health blogs as additional information becomes available.

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