Reactions to the final silica rule issued last week by OSHA have been sharply – and predictably – divided.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that millions of workers “can literally breathe easier knowing that they will not have to sacrifice their lungs and their lives by working in deadly silica dust. The new OSHA silica rules—nearly 20 years in the making—will save hundreds of workers’ lives a year.”
Trumka added that the current OSHA silica standards are 50 years old and are too weak to protect workers.
“We applaud the Barack Obama administration for issuing these lifesaving measures and commend Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels for their tremendous leadership and dedication to bring the silica rules to completion. The labor movement has fought for these standards for decades.”
"It is beyond debate"
The North America’s Building Trades Unions, an alliance of 14 national and international unions in the building and construction industry, also cheered the standard. “For twenty years, NABTU and our affiliates have been urging OSHA and the DOL to get a final rule done because reducing silica exposures will have a significant positive impact on the working conditions for all American construction workers.
“It is beyond debate that silica exposure kills construction workers. It causes silicosis – a deadly lung disease – lung cancer, and other diseases. Silica related diseases cannot be cured, but they can be prevented.
“Put simply, the OSHA Silica Standard will protect construction workers from getting sick or dying from exposure to silica dust.”
However, the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC), which said it is still reviewing the 1,772-page final rule, said it appeared to contain “some of the same problematic provisions that the CISC previously identified and shared with the agency.” The CISC is made up of 25 trade associations, representing all sectors of the construction industry.
“The construction industry submitted hundreds of pages of comments in response to OSHA’s proposal and as we review the final rule we will see whether OSHA has taken these comments into account in developing a standard that is workable,” said Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Vice President of Regulatory, Labor and State Affairs Ben Brubeck.
“Instead of crafting a new standard that the construction industry can comply with, administration officials have instead opted to set a new standard that is well beyond the capabilities of current air filtration and dust removal technologies,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America. “Our concern is that this new rule will do little to improve workplace health and safety.”
The final rule:
- Reduces the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift.
- Requiring employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) and work practices to limit worker exposure; provide respiratory protection when controls are not able to limit exposures to the permissible level; limit access to high exposure areas; train workers; and provide medical exams to highly exposed workers.
- Includes a table of specified controls construction and other small employers can follow to be in compliance, without having to monitor exposures.
- Staggers compliance dates to ensure employers have sufficient time to meet the requirements, e.g., extra time for the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry to install new engineering controls and for all general industry employers to offer medical surveillance to employees exposed between the PEL and 50 micrograms per cubic meter and the action level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.
One rule, two standards
The final rule is written as two standards, one for construction and one for general industry and maritime. Employers covered by the construction standard have until June 23, 2017 to comply with most requirements. Employers covered by the general industry and maritime standard have until June 23, 2018 to comply with most requirements; additional time is provided to offer medical exams to some workers and for hydraulic fracturing employers to install dust controls to meet the new exposure limit.
More information on the rule is available at https://www.osha.gov/silica/