Construction, business groups firmly opposed to revised silica exposure rule

Sources: National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, Silver Spring, Md.; National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, Alexandria, Va.; U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C.

After brief review of a 1,772-page document, NRMCA Compliance and Operations staff reports that concerns the industry voiced in 2013-14 with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s proposed Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica rule had carried to a final version. Ahead of compliance assistance materials to be prepared through the NRMCA Operations, Environmental and Safety Committee, staff will update members as the rule’s concrete plant-specific requirements are analyzed.

Aimed at lowering the incidence of silicosis from crystalline silica exposure in the workplace, the final rule halves a longstanding permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 100 micrograms per cubic meter over an eight-hour period. “The current limit sufficiently protects worker health when fully adhered to and enforced. There is no sound science to show that lowering it to the levels mandated by this rule would meaningfully improve worker protection, but it will add tremendous expense for employers and cost jobs,” says National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association Senior Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs Pam Whitted.

NSSGA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce cite U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures indicating that silicosis mortality fell by more than 90 percent from 1968 to 2010 under the current PEL. The trend line shows that achieving full compliance with, and enforcement of, the current general industry PEL is the best and most cost-effective way to protect silica exposed workers, NSSGA contends. Respiratory hazards silica exposure poses are already successfully regulated, concurs the Chamber, which maintains that a) new compliance burdens will be felt most by small business owners, and b) OSHA did not make a persuasive case for revising the silica PEL.

“The new OSHA regulation is neither technologically nor economically feasible,” says Chamber Executive Director of Labor Policy Marc Freedman. “Compliance will be undermined by laboratories not being capable of measuring silica at the new specified levels. Installing the control systems OSHA requires will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, that most employers, and certainly small businesses, will not be able to afford.

“OSHA’s rulemaking process for this regulation displayed extreme bias and even deception. During the administrative hearing, OSHA representatives conceded that critical testing data was not in the record, and routinely impeded the Chamber’s ability to present its case. The agency relied on aged data and refused to consider modern protective technologies that would make compliance significantly less costly and burdensome.”

“Instead of crafting new and innovative ways to get more firms to comply with the current silica standard, which we know would save even more workers each year, administration officials appear to have instead opted to set a new standard that is well beyond the capabilities of current air filtration and dust removal technologies,” noted Associated General Contractors of America CEO Stephen Sandherr in statement on the rule. “Wishing firms could meet this new but unattainable standard will undoubtedly deliver many positive headlines for the administration, but it will be all but impossible for most construction firms to comply with this new rule. We will continue our exhaustive review of this new regulation, consult with our members and decide on a future course of action that will best serve the health and safety of millions of construction workers across the country.”