Construction safety coalition slams OSHA’s proposed silica rule

Organization calls the proposal to reduce silica exposure in the workplace "significantly flawed"

By: Payton Guion, staff writer//February 14, 2014//

Construction safety coalition slams OSHA’s proposed silica rule

Organization calls the proposal to reduce silica exposure in the workplace "significantly flawed"

By: Payton Guion, staff writer//February 14, 2014//

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silica oneThe Construction Industry Safety Coalition last week issued a stern denouncement of a rule proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration aimed to reduce silica exposure.

According to the OSHA website, the proposed crystalline silica rule would impact as many as 1.85 million construction workers. Of those workers, OSHA estimates that 640,000 are exposed to dangerous amounts of silica at their jobs.

OSHA’s permissible exposure limits haven’t been updated since 1971, according to the organization, and the proposal aims to protect workers from crystalline silica exposures above 50 micrograms per cubic foot of air, averaged over an eight-hour day.

But the CISC said that after studying the rule, the organization feels it would do little to actually help the problem of silica in the workplace.

“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,” the CISC said in a statement. “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.”

Construction workers are exposed to crystalline silica during routine jobs such as operating masonry saws; using hand-operated grinders, jackhammers, rotary hammers, drills,  and vehicle-mounted drilling rigs; or milling, rock crushing, drywall finishing, and earth moving, OSHA said.

OSHA says its proposed rule is expected to save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year once the full effects of the rule are realized. Of these, more than 560 lives would be saved and about 1,080 cases of silicosis would be prevented among construction workers.

Silicosis is caused by the inhalation of tiny particles of crystalline silica and is an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease. Exposure to silica is also a risk factor for lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.

“Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential,” David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, said in a statement. “Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis…Workers affected by silica are fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers lost to entirely preventable illnesses.”

OSHA’s rule would cost about $1,242 per year for the average workplace. Firms with fewer than 20 employees would pay around $500 per year to meet the requirement, according to OSHA’s calculations.

The CISC objects to increased company spending on a reduction in silica exposure, saying that the problem isn’t nearly as bad as it has been in the past.

“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,” the CISC said in its statement. “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.”

OSHA plans to hold informal public hearings beginning on March 4 in Washington, D.C. OSHA expects the hearings to last from 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., however a schedule will be released prior to the start of the hearings. If necessary, the hearings will continue at the same time on subsequent days.

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