American Subcontractors Association decried a rule proposed by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulating the use of crystalline silica on construction projects, as “confusing and burdensome without meeting the shared goal of improved worker safety and health.”
Released by OSHA on Aug. 23 during a news conference that laid out few details, the proposed rule “seeks to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica,” a natural occurring component of soil, sand, granite and other minerals. Many common construction operations in dozens of specialty trade activities involve silica, including those that cut, grind, crush or drill materials that contain silica, such as concrete, masonry, tile or rock.
“OSHA’s proposed rule runs 577 pages and details the steps that tens of thousands of specialty trade contractors will have to follow in order to be in compliance,” said ASA Chief Advocacy Officer E. Colette Nelson.
ASA and its advisors are reviewing and studying the rule in order to submit informed comments to OSHA to help the agency revise the rule to better help contractors protect the health and safety of their employees.
“ASA’s goal is to help OSHA develop a final rule that leaves little ambiguity about what construction contractors must do to comply and to protect their workers,” Nelson said.
Under OSHA’s proposed rule, a construction employer would have to measure and keep records of the amount of respirable crystalline silica that its workers are exposed to if it may be at or above 25 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day. An employer would have to protect its workers if the exposure is above a permissive exposure level (PEL) of 50, averaged over an eight-hour day.
OSHA’s proposed rule essentially provides four ways to protect workers from crystalline silica:
1. Train workers on the dangers of silica exposure and ways to mitigate exposure.
2. Limit workers’ access to areas where they could be exposed above the PEL.
3. Use dust controls to protect workers from silica exposures above the PEL.
4. Provide respirators to workers when dust controls cannot limit exposures to the PEL.
In its evaluation, ASA will determine whether OSHA’s proposed rule:
• Adequately addresses the unique nature of the construction industry with non-fixed worksites and transient employees.
• Is technologically feasible in the construction industry with its varied tasks, operations, and controls.
• Is economically feasible in the construction industry, which is dominated by small firms.
• Is consistent with other federal rules and regulations.
ASA is part of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, which is seeking a feasible and cost-effective crystalline silica regulation that improves safety and health measures for workers. The coalition represents thousands of employers working to protect hundreds of thousands of workers in the construction industry. The coalition was formed to encourage OSHA to develop better choices for compliance with the construction-specific silica rule: alternatives that also address costs, consistency with existing federal regulations, and do not overly burden small businesses.