A recent legal challenge to a major Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule update is no longer active, at least for the moment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against opposition from various industry groups related to the heath and safety regulator's update of its respirable crystalline silica rule in late December 2017, Safety + Health magazine said.
The updated silica rule, originally introduced in 2016 under the Obama administration, reduced the acceptable exposure levels for the material for workers in the construction, maritime and general industry sections of the economy. The Hill noted the change cut the acceptable limit in half for all areas outside of construction, where the previous limit was as high as 250 micrograms, depending on circumstances.
Now, all workers either currently or soon will have a maximum permissible exposure level of 50 micrograms per eight-hour shift. The construction industry already has to follow this standard, while businesses that fall under other classifications will have to comply with the reduced limits by July 28.
"OSHA's silica rule will move forward as planned."
Various associations of businesses affected by the rule change specifically questioned five elements of the new rule and its implementation, Safety + Health said. Skepticism about the effectiveness of reducing exposure limits in terms of addressing employee health concerns, ease-of-implementation issues in certain industries, economic feasibility and two somewhat more technical challenges were all heard by the D.C. appeals court.
"We reject all of Industry's challenges," the court wrote in its official statement, according to The Hill. "To mount a successful attack on OSHA's feasibility finding, then, challengers must do more than suggest that compliance will be infeasible for some firms or in 'a few isolated operations."
Unions with members affected by the rule change also raised challenges, specifically about the limits on provision of medical care under the new rule and medical removal protections, The Hill said. Although the court ruled against the unions' position on providing care, it agreed that medical removal protections should be considered. That means the federal health and safety regulator must now review the rules around medical removal from a worksite ordered by a health-care professional and potentially make changes.
The court's ruling said OSHA didn't explain why medical removal was not a critical component of such a rule. This was due to consequences for employees related to ultimately choosing between disclosing health issues or facing a loss of work and pay.
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