The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), in conjunction with the Georgia Construction Aggregates Association (GCAA), filed a petition on April 4 in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for review of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) crystalline silica rule. OSHA published the final rule on March 25 and unless stayed by the court, the rule is set to take effect June 23.
Silica is the second most common mineral in the world and found abundantly in nature, such as beach sand. Studies have shown that the aggregates industry’s compliance with current regulations has been effective in reducing and appropriately monitoring silica exposure to workers.
Despite the fact that silica-related illnesses have dropped dramatically the past four decades, the rule reduces the workplace exposure limit by half (from 100 micrograms [µg] per cu. meter to 50 µg per cu. meter over an eight-hour work shift).
“The evidence has demonstrated that there is no additional health benefit to further reducing current exposure limits. OSHA’s rule is simply unnecessary as compliance with the existing standard fully protects workers,” said Michael W. Johnson, NSSGA president and CEO. “OSHA’s justification for this stricter regulation is not based on sound science.”
NSSGA submitted extensive written comments and provided oral testimony to OSHA following the agency’s publication in 2014 of its proposed rule. A decade ago, NSSGA and member companies participated in the Small Business Administration’s review of OSHA’s draft proposal, and subsequently weighed in on various occasions with the White House Office of Management and Budget during its review of the proposal’s economic and technical feasibility.
Johnson notes that objective evidence demonstrates that many commercial laboratories that analyze workplace air samples do not consistently provide the analytical accuracy at this lower limit. “There would be significantly more testing required that would result in confusing, inconsistent and unreliable data. This is a real problem that neither OSHA nor the labs have effectively resolved,” he said.
To aid the aggregates industry in its compliance with the current standard, NSSGA regularly partners with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to conduct noise and dust workshops that provide guidance on how to accurately monitor worker exposure to respirable silica. Also, NSSGA’s Occupational Health Program aids operators to effectively safeguard worker health through exposure monitoring and medical surveillance.
“NSSGA believes that the aggregates industry’s most valuable resource is the more than 100,000 people who work in our industry. Our members are committed to their health and welfare,” said Johnson. “It’s unfortunate that NSSGA is compelled to take legal action in this case. However, we are confident that an objective analysis of our challenge will demonstrate that OSHA is on the wrong track.”