Employers Unite against Silica Rule
More than two dozen construction, manufacturing and contractor organizations are mobilizing against a federal proposal to limit silica exposure in the workplace.
Both the Construction Industry Safety Coalition and the American Coatings Association have submitted comments regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Proposed Rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica.
The CISC opposes the rule; the ACA's comments "reflect specific concerns and recommendations for the proposed rule going forward," according to Javaneh Nekoomaram, Counsel, Government Affairs, for the ACA.
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 commercial construction industry.
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 CISC is an employer group 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. The ACA represents paint and coating makers.
While the groups' comments about the far-reaching proposal vary—coating makers want an exemption, while the coalition wants the plan scrapped altogether—both made their concerns clear in comments submitted on the last day of the extended public comment period.
"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.
"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.
The coalition says the proposed rule is “significantly flawed” and “will do little to improve workplace health or safety.” It contends that the proposed exposure threshhold cannot be accurately measured or met and that the proposal "includes a series of data errors that undermine many of the rule's basic assumptions."
'Rife with Errors'
"The proposed rule's new silica exposure limit is virtually impossible to accurately measure or protect against using existing technology," the coalition said. "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 group adds, "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 coalition says OSHA is relying on studies that are not representative of the industry and are based on 40 years of exposure at 10 hours per day.
"Even more troubling," the group says, "the proposal is rife with errors and inaccurate data that call into question the entire rulemaking process."
For example, the coalition says, OSHA:
The coalition contends that OSHA primarily relied on five studies that found high concentrations of silica exposures based on 40 years of exposure at 10 hours per day. The employers said the studies were not representative of the construction industry and called the exposure assumptions "fundamentally flawed."
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 also 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.
Coating Makers Seek Exemption
The American Coatings Association has also expressed concern about the proposal.
ACA said current controls adequately protected workers in paint manufacturing and many painting operations from excessive silica exposure. The organization says that monitoring paint manufacturing for excess silica exposure is unnecessary and, moreover, would cost $700,000—10 times the cost OSHA has estimated.
ACA cites "OSHA's acknowledgment" that data from prior inspections of those workplaces show respirable crystalline exposures "generally below 20 micrograms per cubic meter"—well below the proposed limits.
Painting and Sanding Exposure
The association also cited the results of a study it conducted years ago with California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
That study "showed that the application of a paint containing 6 percent crystalline silica and subsequent sanding of painted surfaces did not result in detectable levels of respirable crystalline silica," the ACA said.
Even workers who spray-apply coatings and perform sanding on silica-containing paint do not meet the proposed PEL threshhold, the association contends
Pouring, brushing, rolling, airless spraying and similar "low-exposure painting operations" should be exempt from routine monitoring requirements, ACA said.
(CPWR: The Center for Construction Research and Safety does not list painting as a task that puts workers at risk, but it does list paints containing silica as materials that may do so. CPWR also includes sanding in its tasks that put workers at risk.)
After two extensions, the comment period on the controversial proposal ended at 11:59 p.m. Feb. 11, drawing over 1,600 comments. Hearings are scheduled to start March 18.
Editor's Note: This article was updated at 7 p.m. ET Feb. 27 to clarify the ACA's position on the rule. While ACA has concerns and recommendations for the proposed rule, it does not oppose the plan, the association said. Second, the association does not accuse OSHA of overstating silica exposures in the coatings industry, but does contend that current exposure levels are well below the proposed limits. D+D News regrets the errors.