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Employers Challenge Silica Rule Cost

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

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The U.S. government's plan to reduce worker exposure to deadly silica will cost about 10 times more than advertised, the proposal's critics contend.

The Proposed Rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica is "potentially the most expensive OSHA rule ever for the industry," according to the 25 trade-association members of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, which is leading the opposition to the plan.

In an industry-commissioned report submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the construction employers say the proposed rule and its impacts reflect "a fundamental misunderstanding of the construction industry."


Construction employers say OSHA is underestimating the significant amount of crystalline respirable silica generated in residential and commercial construction and renovation work.

The 11-page report was submitted March 25 to OSHA as part of the proposal's public comments process. OSHA's analysis of all of the proposal's comments will begin in June.

OSHA's Take

The proposed silica rule, released in September 2013, would sharply reduce Permissible Exposure Limits that have not been updated since 1971. OSHA says the reductions "will substantially reduce" the "significant risk" posed by respirable crystalline silica, which can cause silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.

Silica particles, 100 times smaller than grains of sands, are commonly generated during cutting of stone, rock, concrete, brick and block. Federal officials have warned of the hazards of silica exposure since the 1930s.


OSHA's initial estimate of both costs and benefits did not include 25,000 workers in the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry. It has since added comparable numbers for those workers.

OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year, once the full effects of the rule are realized.

OSHA's original proposal put the annual cost of the proposal at $637 million and the net benefits (the total benefits minus compliance costs) at $4.6 billion.

After the initial estimate, OSHA calculated that the standard would also affect about 25,000 hydraulic fracturing workers not previously counted. For that industry, OSHA estimated benefits of $75.1 million and costs of $28.6 million.

Industry Estimates

Construction employers are vociferously challenging those numbers, saying OSHA's estimates are off by a factor of 10.


Construction employers say the proposed rule will cost the industry 10 times OSHA's estimates.

The industry estimates the rule's costs at more than $4.9 billion per year: about $3.9 billion in direct compliance costs and the rest in price increases for construction materials.

The coalition also contends that the rule would cost the U.S. economy more than 52,700 jobs:

  • 20,800 directly affected construction jobs;
  • 12,180 "indirect" jobs among industry suppliers; and
  • "Nearly 20,000" so-called "induced" job losses when unemployed construction and supplier workers "no longer have earnings to spend."

The "induced" losses, for example, include more than 1,300 job losses in finance and insurance, the coalition says.

Bad Assumptions

The coalition also alleges a number of errors in OSHA's estimates.


Employers say many more activities and trades generate silica dust than OSHA has counted in its estimates. OSHA says reductions in exposures will save lives.

For example, the employers say:

  • "OSHA has ignored the additional costs to the construction industry that will result from the proposed standard for General Industry." Employers say OSHA is not realizing that the industry will have to pass on its compliance costs to customers in the form of higher prices.
  • OSHA underestimates how many construction occupations "generate significant exposures" to respirable crystalline silica. Employers say the agency has focused on heavy construction of roads, bridges, sewers and other infrastructure, while ignoring residential and commercial construction and renovation.

OSHA and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have issued a Hazard Alert focused on worker exposure to silica during fracking.

  • OSHA has not counted the impact on the nation's 2.5 million self-employed construction workers.
  • OSHA "makes the entirely impractical assumption" that compliance costs will be limited to the periods in which excessive silica dust is being generated, when employers must be equipped at all times to handle exposures that may arise.
  • OSHA also underestimates the loss of productivity when workers must clean up and set up and take down controls. Nor does OSHA "consider the numerous circumstances" in which the prescribed controls are "particularly onerous, impractical and/or dangerous"—such as wetting down dust outdoors in the winter.


Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Concrete; Health & Safety; Masonry; North America; OSHA; Regulations; Renovation; Residential Construction; Silica

Comment from Tony Rangus, (4/1/2015, 10:17 AM)

"OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year..." I am confused. How many construction, chemical, refinery, metal fabrication etc. workers are killed every year because the employers don't give a damn about worker safety? Company XYZ kills two workers because of known unsafe conditions, improper training, no safety gear etc. and they get slapped with a $100,000 fine, which gets contested down to $10,000. Oh well, but we can save almost possible 700 lives and prevent 1600 medical cases at a cost of X-billion dollars per year. Be nice if our regulatory authorities expended as much energy and money on reducing worker deaths on the job! Yes, silica is bad and any worker not brain dead understands this, but it seems to me a priority disconnect exists.

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