By Mark S. Kuhar
The Construction Industry Safety Coalition, which represents 25 different construction trade associations, issued the following statement on Feb. 11, 2014, as it filed comments regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed Crystalline Silica Rulemaking:
“After an exhaustive analysis that involved hundreds of construction safety professionals, builders, construction managers and specialty trade contractors representing virtually every facet on the industry, it is our conclusion that the administration’s proposed new silica rule is significantly flawed and will do little to improve workplace health or safety. Specifically, the proposed rule sets a silica exposure standard that cannot be accurately measured or protected against with existing equipment and includes a series of data errors that undermine many of the rule’s basic assumptions.
“The proposed rule’s new silica exposure limit is virtually impossible to accurately measure or protect against using existing technology. 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.
“Even more troubling, the proposal is rife with errors and inaccurate data that call into question the entire rulemaking process. Agency officials, for example, omitted 1.5 million construction workers from its assessment of the size of the affected workforce. The agency also did not consider the broad range of tasks and variety of settings and environments in which construction occurs. And the agency’s assessment of the rule’s cost was off by a factor of four.
“Given the lack of scientific explanation justifying the new exposure limits, the many contradictions between the rule and the realities faced in the construction industry, and the fact that agency officials made significant errors in the basic data the rule is based on, we are urging the administration to withdraw this proposed rule. 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 National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) individually filed formal comments with OSHA. The proposal is important to aggregates producers because the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration aims to propose a silica standard for the mining industry later this year. NSSGA is preparing to respond to MSHA’s proposal at that time.
NSSGA noted in its comments that OSHA’s proposal will not improve worker health. Instead, it will cost employers billions of dollars each year and lead to further workforce reductions in some industries. The best scientific evidence indicates that the current exposure limit protects workers from silica-related disease when it is universally complied with and universally enforced. Since the current limit took effect in 1971, silicosis-related deaths in the U.S. have dropped by more than 93 percent.
NSSGA members are committed to providing a safe and healthful work environment for their employees, whose daily efforts in today’s economy provides vital support to their families and the communities in which they live. “NSSGA years ago adopted a comprehensive Occupational Health Program for its members that is focused on measuring and reducing workplace silica exposures,” said NSSGA President and CEO Michael Johnson. “The elements of this program have been used successfully for decades to reduce silica exposures in the aggregates industry.”
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) also requested that OSHA withdraw its crystalline silica rule. “The real problem here is that OSHA doesn’t understand how this rule would work on real-world residential construction sites,” said NAHB Chairman Kevin Kelly, a home builder from Wilmington, Del. “Before this rule moves forward, OSHA needs to work with us and our members to craft something that is pragmatic, workable and actually improves construction industry workers’ health and wellbeing.”