Editors’ Blog

OSHA’s proposed silica rule drawing ire of industry

By |  February 24, 2014

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed rulemaking on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica has drawn strong negative reactions from a number of organizations. Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC) is among the organizations expressing opposition.

According to a Feb. 11 letter from ABC to OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels, the proposed rule is “potentially the most far-reaching regulatory initiative proposed by OSHA for the construction industry.”

To learn more about the proposed rule and the industry’s reaction to it, PP&E posed a few questions to Sean Thurman, ABC’s director of legislative affairs.

PP&E: What reaction to the proposed silica rule has ABC seen from its members?

ST: ABC members are very concerned about OSHA’s silica rulemaking. For the construction industry, the proposal is overly complex, and many members have concluded that it will be infeasible to reach the permissible exposure limit and action level outlined in the agency’s proposal.

For construction, the proposed rule features a table of prescribed work practices and other measures designed to serve as a compliance aid. While OSHA attempted to recognize the unique nature of our industry, the agency’s proposed solution ultimately falls short. OSHA simply failed to understand many of the daily activities that take place on construction worksites and has in turn created an unworkable compliance path for our members.

PP&E: What impact would such a rule have on your members’ businesses?

ST: OSHA’s proposed rule would have a major impact on the way our members operate their businesses. Costs will be extremely burdensome on small businesses, and compliance appears to be unattainable across the board.

For example, the agency’s suggested exposure limit is virtually impossible to accurately measure or protect against using existing technology. Commercially available dust collection technology is incapable by itself of reaching the proposed exposure limit – let alone the action level. OSHA even seems to acknowledge as much, including additional requirements that workers also wear respirators.

PP&E: The current airborne silica limit is challenging enough for many companies to meet. Any thoughts on your members’ ability to meet the current standard?

ST: Silica is found in many commonly used construction materials, and a wide array of dust-generating activities take place on our industry’s jobsites. Achieving low levels of silica dust (or dust of any kind) is always a challenge in such environments, but the levels our industry and others have consistently achieved under the current standard have successfully resulted in a significant downward trend of silicosis incidences over the last several decades.

ABC believes OSHA should focus on promoting compliance with the existing standard before considering drastic regulatory changes that are not even technologically or economically feasible.

Photo credit: MTSOfan / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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