Producers, associations implore OSHA to reconsider proposed silica rule

Sources: CP staff; Occupational Safety & Health Administration

Concrete, aggregate and cement interests are well represented in parties challenging the rationale, compliance costs and burdens—along with a timeline from announcement (August 28) to close of a four-month public comment period (February 11)—tied to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica.

Over a public comment period twice extended from an initial 45-day target, OSHA received 3,000-plus responses to its proposed reduction of permissible exposure limits (PEL) for quartz from current General Industry and Construction thresholds—100 and 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) expressed in eight-hour weighted averages, respectively—to a uniform 50 µg/m3.

Acknowledging support for a silica exposure standard to protect workers, but questioning the need for a rule change, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association tells OSHA: “Current data shows regulations in place have worked extremely well at protecting workers in the ready mixed concrete industry. The continued compliance with and enforcement of current silica regulations, engineering controls, and proper protective equipment use, properly and effectively limit worker silica exposure and result in downward trends of U.S. silicosis rates.”

On behalf of NRMCA member producer, Mississippi-based MMC Materials, David Bosarge, vice president–Safety & Environmental, cites his company’s annual quantitative industrial hygiene evaluation of yardmen, drivers and plant operators. “Over the past 10 years, employees who were monitored for their exposure to respirable silica (as quartz) and respirable particulate had time weighted average exposures that were determined to be below the laboratory’s level of quantification, and thus the corresponding OSHA PEL,” he affirms.

The proposed rule would present precast producers significant challenges in terms of reducing the potential exposure to an almost nonexistent level, increasing the specifications on when respirators are required, and accurately measuring a new respirable silica concentration threshold with any level of certainty based on technology currently available in the field and at laboratories throughout U.S., contends National Precast Concrete Association in its comments to OSHA.  

“While the safety and health of workers in the precast concrete industry are of the foremost concern, there is also a practical component to actually being able to technically comply with [the new] PEL through the application of additional engineering controls in a real world scenario of a concrete manufacturing plant,” explains NPCA Director of Communications Bob Whitmore. “There is also an economic component in the additional monitoring equipment, respirator usage, record keeping, hazard communication and medical surveillance required to get from the current [to proposed] PEL … We believe the common sense approach would be to retain the current PEL and continue to strongly advocate for compliance with this important environmental standard that has saved thousands of lives since it was first implemented more than four decades ago.”
Representative of the National Concrete Masonry Association and peer operators, Basalite Concrete Products’ (Selma, Calif.) Plant Manager Randy Vita affirms his company’s commitment to employee health and safety, adding, “This rule as proposed has the potential to have significant detrimental impacts on our company and the concrete products industry, while providing no commensurate improvement to [their] health and well being … Silicosis cases are steadily decreasing already under the current [PEL] and the need for the proposed changes has not been adequately justified. Data used as rationalization for the rule appear to be considerably outdated. OSHA greatly underestimates the costs for companies like mine to comply with the proposed changes … We are equally concerned about the impact of this rule on our customers.”

“I have been in this industry for over 40 years and am not personally aware of a single case of a worker contracting silicosis due to exposure in a plant or jobsite,” comments Michael Finch, president of Lemon Grove, Calif.-based RCP Block & Brick Inc. “I question the claim that exposure in our facilities or jobsites present a level of risk that would warrant the cost and liabilities associated with the rulings being applied to our industry.”

With much overlap among its member producers’ operations and downstream customer activities and those of NCMA’s, the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute weighs in with OSHA as well: “ICPI’s view is that the entire proposed regulation presents severe flaws regarding inaccurate cost projections and incomplete consideration of all the cost impacts that occur in real-world manufacturing and construction application. ICPI suggests a complete revision of the proposed regulation on this point alone,” comments Executive Director Charles McGrath.

Among OSHA projections ICPI questions are total ancillary costs, $22 million, for concrete product operations of all sizes complying with the revised PEL. Concrete producer trade groups and the American Chemistry Council Silica Panel, McGrath notes, peg the total ancillary costs for manufactured-concrete producers at $338 million. OSHA additionally underestimates cost impacts on construction industry segments downstream of concrete paving stone and segmental retaining wall unit production. An ICPI consultant finds higher multiples of actual cost impacts, versus agency estimates, on the key construction sectors of residential building (8X OSHA cost impact estimates); nonresidential building (5X); highway, street and bridge construction (4X); and, foundation, structure and building exterior contractors (4X).

“The inadequately short comment period complicates industry efforts to complete analyses,” McGrath argues. “If the early data are correct, OSHA needs to completely revise its cost projections to more accurately reflect the impact on the [interlocking concrete pavement] industry and the concrete products manufacturing and construction industry as a whole.”

The next step in the Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica rulemaking is a series of public hearings OSHA will begin in March—concrete industry representatives among a host of scheduled presenters.

Representative comments from producers and organizations across the concrete, cement, aggregate and construction value chain are posted at through these links:

Producer Comments
Acme Brick
Basalite Concrete Products
Irving Materials
Lafarge North America
Midwest Products Co.
MMC Materials
RCP Brick & Block

Concrete Producer Association Comments
American Concrete Pipe Association
Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute
National Concrete Masonry Association
National Precast Concrete Association
Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute
National Ready Mixed Concrete Association

Materials Producer Association Comments
ACC Silica Panel
Construction & Demolition Recycling Association
National Industrial Sand Association
National Stone Sand & Gravel Association