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OSHA Announces Silica Rule Delay

Monday, April 10, 2017

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The U.S. Department of Labor is delaying its enforcement of a new rule on respirable crystalline silica in the construction industry, originally set to be enforced in June.

The DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Thursday (April 6) that it would push back enforcement of the new crystalline silica standard from June 23 to September 23. The agency said the extra time is needed “to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.”

About the Rule

OSHA issued the silica rule, which was years in the making, in March 2016. The rule comes in the form of two standards—one for construction, and one for general industry and maritime. The general industry and maritime enforcement date was originally set one year later than the construction enforcement date—at June 23, 2018—and that has not been changed.


Exposure to airborne silica dust occurs in operations using sand products, such as in glass manufacturing, foundries and abrasive blasting.

The new rule reduces the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift. That’s half of the old PEL of 100 micrograms per cubic meter. The new rule also establishes an action level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Silica is one of Earth's most common minerals, found in stone, rock, brick, mortar and block. Exposure to airborne silica dust occurs in operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick, block and other stone products and in operations using sand products, such as in glass manufacturing, foundries and abrasive blasting.

Studies indicate that breathing in silica dust can lead to the debilitating and potentially fatal pulmonary disease silicosis—an incurable and progressive disease—as well as lung cancer.

Lawsuit Pending

The silica rule is subject to ongoing litigation in the form of the case North American Building Trades Unions vs. OSHA, a suit in which both business and labor interests are challenging aspects of the rule and its implementation.

Ed Brown, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Several Department of Labor rules developed during the Obama administration have been delayed or rolled back since President Trump took office.

Industry groups have expressed concerns about how protection requirements were determined, while unions challenging the law are concerned with provisions related to free silica testing and protection for workers who need to be removed from a worksite as a result of silica exposure.

OSHA issued a small-entity compliance guide for the construction industry in late 2016.

Labor and Industry React

The nation’s largest labor union has decried the delay; AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka issued a statement after the delay was announced, calling further delay “unacceptable.”

“The longer the Trump administration delays, the more workers will suffer and die,” the statement reads. “This action alone will lead to an additional 160 worker deaths. We will do everything possible to make sure this commonsense rule is not taken away.”

But some industry groups say the delay isn’t enough, and that the specifics of the rule will have to be altered before companies can come into compliance.

The Associated General Contractors of America said in a statement issued to PaintSquare News, “While we appreciate the agency’s admission that its current timeline is unrealistic, a three-month delay does not change the fact that the technology does not exist to enable firms to fully comply with this new rule.

“A better approach would be for OSHA officials to revisit this rule and work with us to put in place measures that are technologically possible and then focus on ensuring total compliance with that new standard.”

Other Rules Delayed or Struck Down

Since January’s inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, a number of OSHA and DOL rules promulgated under the administration of Barack Obama have faced delays or even legislation meant to cancel them out.

In March, OSHA proposed, then confirmed, a delay to the effective date of its final rule on beryllium exposure, citing the administration’s memorandum calling for a regulatory freeze. The agency said it is reviewing the rule; that rule’s effective date, originally March 21, now stands at May 20.

In late March, the U.S. Senate sent a bill to President Trump’s desk that would negate the so-called “Volks rule,” which had given OSHA up to five years from the report of a workplace injury to fine an employer for inaccurate reporting; Trump signed the legislation into law Tuesday (April 4).

And days later, President Trump signed a bill that would strike down the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, signed last year by President Obama and nicknamed the “blacklist rule” by those who opposed it. That order had subjected firms seeking federal contracts of $500,000 or more to increased scrutiny regarding their labor, safety and civil rights records.


Tagged categories: AFL-CIO; Associated General Contractors (AGC); Beryllium; Department of Labor; Health and safety; OSHA; President Obama; President Trump; Silica; Silica rule

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