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Employers Call to Withdraw Silica Rule

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

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Construction employers across the industry are urging the federal government to withdraw its proposed rule on silica exposure, saying the measure is “significantly flawed” and “will do little to improve workplace health or safety.”

The Construction Industry Safety Coalition submitted comments Feb. 11, the last day to comment, on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Proposed Rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica

The CISC is made up of 25 trade associations from the construction and demolition industries, including commercial building, heavy industrial production, home building, road repair, specialty trade contractors and material suppliers. 

OSHA proposed silica rule
Photos: OSHA

"OSHA's crystalline silica proposal is potentially the most egregious regulatory initiative that OSHA has proposed for the construction industry," said a VP of the Associated Builders and Contractors.

According to the coalition, the proposed exposure standard cannot be accurately measured or protected against with current equipment. Additionally, it says, the proposed rule "includes a series of data errors that undermine many of the rule's basic assumptions." 

Measuring Exposure 'Virtually Impossible'

"The proposed rule's new silica exposure limit is virtually impossible to accurately measure or protect against using existing technology," the coalition stated. "For example, commercially-available dust collection technology is not capable by itself of protecting workers from the rule's new silica exposure limit.

"A limitation the agency appears to acknowledge in its additional requirement that workers also wear respirators, something that would not be necessary if the dust collection technology was effective." 

The proposed rulemaking includes two separate standards—one for general industry and maritime employment, and one for construction—that would have widespread impact on the industrial and commercial coating and abrasive-blasting industries.

The proposed rule would limit worker exposure to a PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day—a sharp reduction from the current limits.

Construction Industry Safety Coalition

The coalition said that OSHA relied on studies that were not representative of the construction industry and were based on 40 years of exposure at 10 hours per day.

The American Coatings Association also recently decried the proposed rule, stating that monitoring paint manufacturing for excess silica exposure is unnecessary and would cost $700,000—10 times OSHA's estimate. 

In comments submitted Feb. 11, ACA said current controls adequately protected paint manufacturing and many painting operations from excessive silica exposure. 

'Troubling,' 'Egregious'

"Even more troubling, the proposal is rife with errors and inaccurate data that call into question the entire rulemaking process," the coalition asserted. 

For example, the coalition said that OSHA officials:

  • Omitted 1.5 million construction workers from its assessment of the size of the affected workforce;
  • Did not consider the broad range of tasks, setting and environments of construction work; and 
  • Were off by a factor of four in assessing the rule's cost. 

"OSHA's crystalline silica proposal is potentially the most egregious regulatory initiative that OSHA has proposed for the construction industry," Geoff Burr, VP of Government Affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors, a member of CISC, said in a statement

The comments submitted by the coalition contend that OSHA primarily relied on five studies, none of which was representative of the construction industry, that found high concentrations of silica exposures based on 40 years of exposure at 10 hours per day. 

silica exposure limits

The comment period for OSHA's proposed silica rule ended Feb. 11, after being extended twice and drawing over 1,600 comments.

Citing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coalition said that silica-related deaths were declining under current PELs, dropping by 93 percent from 1968 to 2007. 

"This steep decline in deaths indicates that workers are being protected from exposure to silica and exposures are likely to continue to decrease over the years," the coalition commented. 

45-Year Working Life

The comments also called OSHA's 45-year working life assumption "fundamentally flawed," especially for the construction industry, because employees rarely have 45-year careers in the same jobs where their respirable crystalline silica exposure is consistently high and constant. 

"We strongly urge agency officials to work with us and employee groups to craft a silica measure that will build upon the work all of us have done to reduce silica-related deaths by 93 percent during the past three decades," the coalition concluded. 

After two extensions, the comment period ended at 11:59 p.m. Feb. 11, drawing over 1,600 comments. Hearings are scheduled to start March 18. 


Tagged categories: Associations; Certifications and standards; Coatings manufacturers; Construction; Health & Safety; Health and safety; OSHA; Regulations; Respirators; Silica; Workers

Comment from David Johnson, (2/25/2014, 8:53 AM)

Workers need to be protected. But there is a reasonable limit. What's next, di-hydrogen monooxide?'s a colorless, tasteless compound which kills thousands each year.

Comment from Anna Jolly, (2/25/2014, 11:32 AM)

We have known the hazards of silica since the 1930's. Having been on many construction jobsites, the statement that the OSHA's current regulatory standard is adequately protective is absolutely not true. Most construction employers don't know how to spell silica. The current PEL is inadequate and because there is nothing else, such as work practices and training in the regulation, most construction companies I have been around don't do anything.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (2/25/2014, 11:45 AM)

"Workers need to be protected. But there is a reasonable limit." - David, I agree with the sentiment behind your statement, but do we know what that limit is (yet) and how are we ensuring that it is being enforced? There is a fine line between being too much and not enough...the proposed guidelines are a way to start the discussion on where that line is (or should be) and how we get there. I don't think the final guidelines will be the same as what was sent out in the proposed version (1600 comments should tell someone that tweaks may be required). Unfortunately, I can also mirror Anna's comments...there are too many out there who don "get it" when it comes to hazards and can't/don't/won't do anything about fall protection, respiratory protection, confined spaces and such.

Comment from Jim Johnson, (2/25/2014, 2:52 PM)

Here they go with more repressive over regulation. If the current regulation has reduced deaths by 93% then they are currently very near what would be an allowable level. Common sense would say to reduce the current allowable level by 10% and that should reduce that last 7% to attain the desired goal. I cannot conceive of any worker working in maximum dust levels for 10 hours a day for 40 years. That is hogwash and I would bet they cannot validate a single person who has done that. Logic would say they should use 6 hours per day for the 180 work days per year for 10 years. But when has government ever been logical? Plus, to demand a level that equipment cannot even attain, when so little gain is needed, is completely irrational. How do they propose anyone comply? Shut down all operations until new equipment can be developed? No one has any idea how long that could take or what it would cost. I am all for worker safety, but to go so overboard borders on insanity...or intentional economic damage.

Comment from Simon Hope, (2/27/2014, 3:54 AM)

Silicosis is a dreadful way to die, the legislation has been in force in the UK for years and does not create any major problems, it was initially aimed at mining and surprisingly school teachers (the chalk dust was killing and crippling thousands!) It is insane to try and allow a known killer to be protected and promoted.

Comment from Car F., (2/28/2014, 11:27 AM)

Greed is at the base of this resistance; anything that will affect money will be resisted or viewed with suspicion; it is the sign of a society that doesn’t value life, just turn the TV on to confirm.

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