Employers Call to Withdraw Silica Rule
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.
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.
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.
"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:
"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.
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.