Proposed Silica Rule Hugely Expensive to Industry

The following articles were reprinted courtesy of Construction News

Proposed Silica Rule Hugely Expensive to Industry

Marc Ramsey, Director of Communications

American Subcontractors Association

Alexandria, VA

After nearly a year of review and study, on Aug. 18, the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC) filed its final post-hearing brief on the U.S. OSHA’s Proposed Rule on Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica.

Released by OSHA on Aug. 23, 2013, the proposed rule “seeks to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica,” a natural occurring component of soil, sand, granite and other minerals. Many common construction operations in dozens of specialty trade activities involve silica, including those that cut, grind, crush or drill materials that contain silica, such as concrete, masonry, tile or rock.

In its final comments to OSHA, CISC reemphasized its pre-hearing written comments and testimony and presented its final economic analysis. Specifically, CISC said:

• OSHA has not identified all of the construction tasks and worker job categories that would be affected by the proposed rule, nor has OSHA addressed the omitted tasks and job categories in the technological and economic feasibility analyses.

• OSHA has no justification in assuming for all construction worker exposure samples of less than full-shift duration that sampled workers have no exposure for the unsampled remainder of their shift.

• OSHA’s analysis does not consider the broad range of tasks and variety of settings and environments in which construction work occurs.

• OSHA’s assumption about compliance on multiemployer worksites does not account for exposure effects.

• OSHA’s assessment of each of the individual construction tasks analyzed failed to consider the broad range of exposures and even if it had done so, did not demonstrate conclusively that a permissible exposure level (PEL) of 50 μg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air) could be met in most operations most of the time.

CISC’s economic analysis demonstrates that OSHA grossly underestimated the costs that the construction industry will incur to comply with the proposal. CISC estimates that “compliance with OSHA’s proposed standard would cost the construction industry nearly $3.9 billion per year, nearly eight times larger than OSHA’s estimate.”

The American Subcontractors Association (ASA) is a founding member of CISC, which has been an active participant throughout OSHA’s rulemaking process. In its own comments, ASA joined CISC in requesting that OSHA withdraw the proposed rule and offered to engage in a dialogue with OSHA regarding what would be an appropriate approach to dealing with the hazards of silica on construction worksites. ASA Chief Advocacy Officer E. Colette Nelson concluded, “After thoroughly reviewing the rulemaking record developed by OSHA, ASA continues to believe that the Agency has not met its burden with respect to the rule and the construction industry and should withdraw the proposal.”

In its comments filed on Feb. 8, ASA told OSHA, “ASA believes that the proposed rule, as it would apply to employers in the construction industry, is so fundamentally flawed that it cannot be remedied through the current rulemaking process.”

Under OSHA’s proposed rule, a construction employer would have to measure and keep records of the amount of respirable crystalline silica that its workers are exposed to if it may be at or above 25 μg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), averaged over an eight hour day. An employer would have to protect its workers if the exposure is above a permissive exposure level (PEL) of 50 μg/m3, averaged over an eight hour day. –cw

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