Statement of Brett S. Smith, Sr. Director, Government Relations, American Iron and Steel Institute

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VIDEO: AISI's Brett Smith, Statement to EPA Pittsburgh Hearing on August 1

Good afternoon. I am Brett Smith, Sr. Director of Government Relations for the American Iron and Steel Institute or AISI. AISI serves as the voice of the North American steel industry in the public policy arena and advances the case for steel in the marketplace as the preferred material of choice.

AISI is comprised of 22 member companies, including integrated and electric furnace steelmakers, and approximately 125 associate members who are suppliers to or customers of the steel industry. Our member companies represent over three quarters of both U.S. and North American steel capacity. AISI members directly employ over 150,000 individuals and are committed to continuous improvement in safety and health and to achieving an injury-free workplace.

While AISI appreciates that OSHA has attempted to develop a regulation that would protect workers’ health in general industry from the dangers of exposure to elevated levels of respirable crystalline silica, AISI members believe lowering the current Permissible Exposure Level (PEL) is unnecessary to achieve this end. Before moving to a lowered PEL, OSHA should consider the alternative of improved enforcement of and expanded outreach for the existing PEL of 100 µg/m3 for general industry.

OSHA’s own numbers show that some 30 percent of general industry is not in compliance with the PEL. By simply cutting the existing PEL for general industry in half, the agency will not ensure greater compliance, but will make it even more likely that the 70 percent of general industry that was in good standing will now find themselves in noncompliance. AISI, therefore, recommends that OSHA carefully study the effects of full compliance with the existing PEL on reducing the health risks of exposed workers and continue employer outreach programs, coupled with better enforcement of the existing standard.

Beyond this broader concern about the proposed lower PEL, AISI also has a number of steel industry-specific concerns about the proposal. In particular, we believe that the prohibition on dry sweeping and compressed air presents a significant safety hazard for steel making facilities. In areas of steel making facilities where molten metal is present, the use of dry sweeping has been the industry practice for controlling crystalline silica and other dust accumulation. Wetting methods for dust control in these areas present the potential for steam explosions, a significant and immediate safety hazard for any workers in these areas of the facility. Further, the alternative of vacuuming for such large areas is both cost prohibitive and logistically difficult. AISI, therefore requests that OSHA allow flexibility in the choice of cleaning methods for work areas where wet controls present a greater danger to worker safety than established dry sweeping methods and where vacuuming is not practical.

Additionally, the proposed rule is duplicative of existing steel industry standards and potentially conflicts with the coal dust PEL. First, OSHA’s existing Coke Oven Emissions (COE) standard protects employees working in the regulated area around metallurgical coke ovens and metallurgical coke oven batteries where exposure to emissions are of greatest concern. AISI believes that workers covered by OSHA’s coke oven emission standard are therefore already protected adequately from the dangers of crystalline silica exposure and such operations should be exempt from the proposed rule. Secondly, AISI requests that OSHA provide specific guidance to coal handling facilities that operate under an existing coal dust PEL. Guidance is needed on how OSHA proposes to apply the existing coal dust PEL when crystalline silica is also present and how the agency would apply the proposed crystalline silica standard in coal handling and processing areas.

In anticipation of the amended standard and its lower PEL and Action Level, AISI members have begun assessing the potential exposure values for crystalline silica. In conducting these initial assessments, some steel shops have experienced difficulty in accurately measuring crystalline silica exposure down the proposed Action Level of 25 µg/m3 due to graphite interference. AISI therefore requests that OSHA provide guidance in situations where equipment sensitivity challenges a regulated employer’s ability to accurately measure crystalline silica exposure down to the low exposure Action Level anticipated in the proposed rule.

The proposed employee training requirements in the rule use the terms “each employee” and “each affected employee” interchangeably. Clarification is needed on whether OSHA intends all employees at a facility to receive the training required under the proposed rule or if only “affected employees” must go through proper training. Specifically, AISI requests that OSHA amend the definition of “affected employee” to only those foreseeably exposed at the PEL and use this term throughout to provide certainty that only “affected employees” need to receive the required training on potential crystalline silica exposure in their specific work areas.

Many of AISI’s members own and operate mining facilities and are therefore regulated by MSHA, with some members regulated by both OSHA and MSHA. Recently, MSHA has indicated that it also intends to revisit its own regulation on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica, which will likely harmonize its own PEL with that of OSHA. This will add another layer of compliance costs for AISI member companies that were not accounted for in OSHA’s proposed rule.

In conclusion, AISI strongly urges OSHA to fully implement and enforce the existing general industry crystalline silica PEL of 100 µg/m3 before adopting and implementing a new standard that will be more complex and require more technical control than the existing standard. Additionally, AISI requests the agency address the steel industry specific issues it has raised concerning hazards inherent with wet cleaning methods, duplication of existing standards around metallurgical coke oven operations, guidance on the existing coal dust PEL, issues that arise with accurate monitoring due to graphite interference, the ambiguous employee training requirements, and the precedential effect on other agencies. We appreciate the opportunity to offer our comments today and look forward answering any questions OSHA staff may have.


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