OSHA Plans Release of Final Silica Rule in 2016

Congressional intervention to negate the rule likely will be vetoed by President Obama.

A Modern Casting Staff Report

(Click here to see the story as it appears in the December issue of Modern Casting.)

It’s been more than two years since the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) formally unveiled its comprehensive and complicated regulation to control crystalline silica. This is one of the agency’s most far-reaching regulatory initiatives ever proposed for the metalcasting industry and calls for a 50% reduction in the permissible exposure limit (PEL). According to OSHA’s regulatory agenda released in November, the agency expects to release its final comprehensive rule in February 2016, before the end of President Obama’s second term.

In the two years since the formal proposal was released, the metalcasting industry has voiced its concerns regarding the regulation in numerous ways. Outside consultants for the metalcasting industry estimate the costs to meet the lower PEL will be more than $2.2 billion a year for the metalcasting industry. During public hearings held March 18-April 4, 2014, the American Foundry Society (AFS) and metalcasting industry representatives testified the proposed silica rule was overly burdensome and not achievable for the metalcasting industry. AFS called on OSHA to work to improve compliance to the current 100 µg/cu.m PEL, work with EPA to allow the expansion of ventilation systems to reduce employee exposures under the current requirement, and withdraw its proposal and modify it to make it economically feasible to achieve compliance.

Since then, AFS and industry representatives have provided post-hearing comments in response to OSHA’s request for additional information and filed a post-hearing brief in August 2014. This was the final formal document outlining and substantiating the industry’s position on the silica rulemaking.

While the OSHA team has been preparing the final rule to be released next year, the metalcasting industry has met with more than 300 congressional offices to discuss the impact of the proposal and the industry’s key concerns for the rule:

  • It prohibits work practices that contradict existing industry safe practices, such as using compressed air to clean complex castings.
  • The rule underestimates or completely omits the cost of equipment and practices, such as new dust collectors, which can cost more than $1 million to install.

In addition, some metalcasting plants will be forced to redesign ventilation systems and make changes to air permits from EPA, which can take at least a year to obtain.

The industry has garnered some support from legislators. In 2014, the governors in Iowa and Texas wrote letters against the silica rule proposal. In June 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee accepted by voice vote an amendment by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) that would require OSHA to conduct additional reviews and research before it could finalize the comprehensive silica rulemaking. The Hoeven amendment is part of the Fiscal Year 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill and would prevent any funds from being used by OSHA to promulgate or release its silica rule until it studies and addresses the following:

  • Conduct a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act review—OSHA relied on a decades-old report and metalcasting data from the early 1990s.
  • Commission an independent study by the National Academy of Sciences to examine the ability of all impacted industries to comply with proposed exposure limits and the ability of personal protective equipment to safeguard employees, among other issues.

President Obama has threatened to veto the proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Other members of Congress are being asked to contact the chairs of the Senate and House Appropriations/HHS Appropriations bill urging them to include the Hoeven amendment into the FY16 omnibus budget.  President Obama has threatened to veto a budget bill that includes policy riders for any of its rulemakings.

Although it has been an arduous process for OSHA to produce a final silica rule, the administration is adamant a final rule will be issued in 2016, before the current presidential term has ended. The first step in this finalization process will be OSHA sending the final rule for review to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management & Budget. OIRA usually takes 90 days and sometimes more to review the rule. The office can do one of three things: accept the rule, tell OSHA to go back and fix certain sections, or reject the rule. Interested stakeholders, such as metalcasting representatives, have the opportunity to meet with OIRA after OSHA sends the rule for review.

Once the rule is finalized, affected parties have 60 days to file petitions for judicial review in the U.S. Court of Appeals. Metalcasters also can anticipate lawmakers will introduce a resolution of disapproval, known as the Congressional Review Act. If enacted, the bill would nullify the regulation. However, President Obama has issued a veto threat against the resolution.

Once the final rule is published in the Federal Register, the standard will become effective after 60 days. All obligations set in the rule are required to commence 180 days after the effective date, except for engineering controls and laboratory requirements, which are required after a full year.   

To comply with the new standard, metalcasting facilities face two major challenges: economic impact and technical feasibility. While OSHA estimates the cost for additional controls for the metalcasting industry to comply with the lowered PEL to be $32 million a year, industry estimates are as high as $2.2 billion a year—more than 46 times OSHA’s estimate. In addition, OSHA’s ancillary cost estimation of $9 million a year is much lower than the industry’s estimate of more than $90 million a year (Tables 1-2).

If the rule is finalized, metalcasters will have an uphill battle to achieve compliance. According to OSHA’s data, a large minority of the metalcasting industry exhibits noncompliance with the current PEL (Table 3). More than 40% of facilities are noncompliant with the current 100 μg/cu.m limit in three job categories: cleaning/finishing operators, sand system operators and abrasive blasting operators. More than 30% are noncompliant in furnace, knockout, pouring and maintenance operation. The lack of compliance stems largely from the lack of a ready, cost-effective solution. OSHA’s cost analysis estimates include only the cost for those metalcasting facilities who already meet the standard and will be required to reduce PEL from 100 μg/cu.m to less than 50 μg/cu.m. It does not include the costs for those above the current limit to progress to the new, more stringent limit after meeting the current standard.   

For more information on the proposed crystalline silica rulemaking, visit www.afsinc.org/silica.

ncountering a scenario in which you are forced to suddenly and immediately suspend melting operations for an extended period can be a death sentence for many metalcasting facilities. Small to mid-size businesses are the backbone of the industry, but many do not survive when forced into extended downtime. One disaster-stricken metalcaster, however, found resilience through its own perseverance and a circle of support from peers, friends, suppliers, teams from installation and repair providers, an original equipment manufacturer and even competitors.
Tonkawa Foundry, a third-generation, family-owned operation in Tonkawa, Okla., was entering its 65th year of operation this year when a significant technical failure ravaged the power supply and melting furnaces on January 17. Thanks to the textbook evacuation directed by Operations Manager Carrie Haley, no one was physically harmed during the incident, but the extent of emotional and financial damage, and just how long the event would take Tonkawa offline, was unclear.
Tonkawa’s power supply and two steel-shell furnaces would have to be rebuilt. No part of the reconstruction process could begin until the insurance company approved removal of the equipment from the site. The potential loss of Tonkawa’s employees and customers to competing metalcasters seemed inevitable.
Within two days of the incident, repair, installation and equipment representatives were on site at Tonkawa to survey the damage. Once the insurance company issued approval to begin work, the installation team mobilized within 24 hours to remove the equipment and disassemble the melt deck.
Since the damaged equipment was installed in the 1980s and 1990s, Tonkawa and an equipment services and repair company quickly strategized a plan and identified ways to enhance the safety, efficiency and overall productivity of Tonkawa’s melt deck.
“The most critical issue was for our team to organize a response plan,” said Steve Otto, executive vice president for EMSCO’s New Jersey Installation Division. “We needed to arrive at Tonkawa ready to work as soon as possible and deliver quickly and thoroughly so they could get back to the business of melting and producing castings, and minimize their risk of closing.”
Several years after Tonkawa’s melt deck was originally installed, an elevation change was required to accommodate the use of a larger capacity ladle under the spout of the furnaces. Rather than raising the entire melt deck, only the area supporting the furnaces was elevated. As a result, the power supply and workstation were two steps down from the furnaces, creating a number of inconveniences and challenges that impacted overall work flow in the melt area. Additionally, the proximity of the power supply to the furnaces not only contributed to the limited workspace, but also increased the odds of the power supply facing damage.
The damage to the melt deck required it to be reconstructed. It was determined to be the ideal opportunity to raise the entire deck to the same elevation and arrange the power supply, workstation and furnaces onto one level. The furnace installation company provided the layout concepts, and with the aid of Rajesh Krishnamurthy, applications engineer, Oklahoma State Univ., Tonkawa used the concepts to generate blueprints for the new deck construction. The results yielded a modernized melt system with an even elevation, strategically placed power supply, enhanced worker safety and increased operator productivity.
“Eliminating the steps and relocating the power supply farther from the furnaces was a significant improvement to our melt deck,” Tonkawa Co-Owner Jim Salisbury said.
Within four days of insurance company approval, all damaged equipment had been removed and shipped for repair.
The insurance company required an autopsy on the damaged furnace before any repair work could begin. The forensic analysis was hosted by EMSCO in Anniston, Ala., in the presence of insurance company personnel, as well as an assembly of industry representatives from the companies who had received notices of potential subrogation from the insurance company.
Tonkawa’s furnace was completely disassembled while the insurance company’s forensic inspector directed, photographed, cataloged and analyzed every turn of every bolt on the furnace over a nine-hour workday. The coil was dissected, and lining samples were retained for future reference.
While the furnace sustained extensive damage, it did not have to be replaced entirely.
Structural reconstruction was performed to address run-out damage in the bottom of the furnace, a new coil was fabricated and the hydraulic cylinders were repacked and resealed. Fortunately, the major components were salvageable, and ultimately, the furnace was rebuilt for half the cost of a new furnace.
“The furnace experienced a significant technical failure,” said Jimmy Horton, vice president and general manager of southern operations, EMSCO. “However, not only was the unit rebuilt, it was rebuilt using minimal replacement parts.”
Though work was underway on the furnaces, Tonkawa was challenged with a projected lead time of 14 weeks on the power supply.
When accounting for the three weeks lost to insurance company holds and the time required for installation, Tonkawa was looking at a total production loss of 18-20 weeks. From the perspective of sibling co-owners Sandy Salisbury Linton and Jim Salisbury, Tonkawa could not survive such a long period of lost productivity. After putting their heads together with their furnace supplier, it was determined the reason for the long turnaround on the power supply could be traced to the manufacturer of the steel cabinet that housed the power supply.
The solution? The existing cabinet would be completely refurbished and Tonkawa would do the work rather than the initial manufacturer. This reduced the 14-week lead time to just five weeks.
Tonkawa is the single source for a number of its customers. Although lead-time had been significantly reduced, the Tonkawa team still needed a strategy to keep the single source customers in business as well as a plan to retain their larger customers.
Tonkawa pours many wear-resistant, high-chrome alloys for the agriculture and shot blast industries. Kansas Castings, Belle Plaine, Kan., which is a friendly competitor, is located 50 miles north of Tonkawa. Kansas Castings offered Tonkawa two to three heats every Friday for as long as it needed.
“We made molds, put them on a flatbed trailer, prayed it wasn’t going to rain in Oklahoma, and drove the molds to Kansas Castings. We were molding, shot blasting, cleaning, grinding and shipping every Friday,” Salisbury Linton said.
Others joined the circle of support that was quickly surrounding the Tonkawa Foundry family.
Modern Investment Casting Corporation (MICC) is located 12 miles east of Tonkawa in Ponca City, Okla. Though MICC is an investment shop and Tonkawa is a sand casting facility, MICC’s relationship with Tonkawa dates back years to when Sandy and Jim’s father, Gene Salisbury, was at the helm.
“Gene was always willing to help you out,” said MICC owner, Dave Cashon. “His advice was invaluable for us over the years, so when the opportunity arose to support Sandy and Jim, we volunteered our help.”
 MICC offered to pour anything Tonkawa needed every Friday in its furnace. Tonkawa brought its alloy, furnace hand and molds, while MICC provided its furnace and a furnace hand for three heats. Many of the specialty parts Tonkawa produces were completed with MICC’s support.
When Salisbury Linton approached Cashon and asked him to issue her an invoice to cover the overhead Tonkawa was consuming, Cashon told her if she brought in six-dozen donuts every Friday morning they’d call it even.
“We’re all kind of like family,” Cashon said. “We’re all part of the same industry and though we may be friendly competitors at times, you don’t want to see anybody go through what they’ve gone through and it could have just as easily been our furnace that failed. While we all take the appropriate measures and perform maintenance to prevent these scenarios from occurring, they unfortunately still occur from time to time in our industry.”
Tonkawa had recently added steel work to its menu of services and Central Machine & Tool, Enid, Okla., was able to take Tonkawa’s patterns and fulfill its steel orders so it would not fall behind with those customers, while CFM Corporation, Blackwell, Okla., took three of Tonkawa’s employees on a temporary basis and kept them working during the downtime. Additionally, a couple of Tonkawa’s major suppliers extended their payables terms.
Thanks to Tonkawa’s suppliers, friends and its personnel’s own passion, persistence and dedication, the business is up, running and recovering—placing it among the few shops of its size to overcome the odds and remain in business after facing calamity.
 Nearly eight months after that devastating Saturday evening in January, Salisbury Linton reflected on the people and events that helped Tonkawa rise from the ashes. “We certainly would not have the opportunity to see what the future holds for Tonkawa if it weren’t for all the kind-hearted people who cared about what happened to us. Everyone still checks in on us.”