The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is in Washington. That might tell us all we need to know about its rule-making. OSHA’s latest foray into regulating the workplace is a proposed rule to drastically reduce allowable levels of crystalline silica. It is a horribly expensive idea with little discernible benefit.
Today, most industries have a silica standard of 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air, but OSHA regulators have decided that 50 micrograms per cubic meter in any industrial zone is plenty. That is a lollapalooza of a cut, particularly for construction zones, which currently are allowed 250 micrograms per cubic meter. The proposed reduction has construction industry leaders gasping.
An Associated Builders and Contractors executive calls it “potentially the most egregious regulatory initiative” the agency has ever imposed, which is saying something. A form-letter response to OSHA that Associated General Contractors worked up for its members calls the rule “enormously costly”—as in $5.5 billion in annualized compliance costs and the loss of $3.1 billion in annual economic output.
The rule will only affect construction companies that build or drill or crush or otherwise try to make something from scratch in rocks, sand or soils. Everyone, in a word. If the proposed regulation is put into effect, it will be another blow to an industry trying to recover from the recessionary collapse and hoping for better days ahead.
The fact is, cases of silicosis—the disease produced from inhaling too much silica—have been steadily declining for decades. That’s despite about 30 percent of contractors trying but failing to meet the 100-micrograms standard. How will halving the allowable standard alleviate the situation? It will force the struggling companies to shut down. Problem solved.
Crusaders of old have nothing on true believers in Washington’s regulatory agencies. They are going to cure us even if it kills us.