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Silica Rule Is Regulatory Overkill

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will soon publish a final workplace exposure standard for crystalline silica that will cut the permissible exposure limit in half. The final rule was recently issued by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

The standard reduces the exposure limit from 100 micrograms (μg) per cubic meter of air to 50 μg per cubic meter over an eight-hour period.

The National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) and the aggregates industry are committed to the prevention of adverse health effects associated with the inhalation of crystalline silica.

“The current exposure 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,” said Pam Whitted, NSSGA senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that silicosis mortality fell by more than 90 percent from 1968 to 2010 as the current PEL has been in effect. This shows that achieving full compliance with, and enforcement of, the current general industry PEL for quartz is the best and most cost-effective way to protect silica-exposed workers.

The crystalline silica rule is based on outdated data and could actually increase health and safety risks for road construction workers, said the the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

The regulation takes effect June 23, but construction companies will have one year to comply.

“As currently written, the OSHA rule could actually increase the safety threat for highway workers and motorists,” ARTBA President and CEO Pete Ruane said. “We will be reviewing the proposal very carefully and keeping all our options on the table, including a legislative solution or legal action.”

The association said it would also be consulting with its industry partners in the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, a group ARTBA helped form in 2013.

In previous written comments and face-to-face meetings with OSHA and Office of Management & Budget Officials (OMB), ARTBA told OSHA officials that they used both outdated data and a faulty economic analysis in reaching the new standard. Specifically, OSHA relied on studies from 1930-1960, thus ignoring the successes of modern technology that have dramatically reduced silica exposure in roadway construction zones. ARTBA told OSHA that it may be doing more harm than good by requiring workers to wear respirators in hot environments, potentially exposing them to heat stroke and stress.

ARTBA also noted that by diverting significant resources to address a hazard that is minimally harmful in transportation construction operations, OSHA is reducing the resources needed to protect workers from more significant hazards, such as struck-by incidents. The association reminded agency officials that funds for transportation come primarily from tax dollars, and that money spent complying with this standard will reduce other public safety investments such as guardrail replacement and pothole repair.