OSHA yesterday announced a delay in enforcement of the crystalline silica standard to September 23, 2017.
The rule, which applies to the construction industry, was originally scheduled to begin June 23, 2017.
The agency said the delay would enable it to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers. "The agency has determined that additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements in the construction standard," according to a statement.
OSHA said it expects employers in the construction industry to continue to take steps either to come into compliance with the new permissible exposure limit, or to implement specific dust controls for certain operations as provided in Table 1 of the standard. Construction employers should also continue to prepare to implement the standard’s other requirements, including exposure assessment, medical surveillance and employee training.
"The cost will be paid by workers"
Former OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels called the delay a “lose-lose proposition.”
“We have known for decades that silica standards needed to be improved to protect workers,” Michaels said. “The cost will be paid by workers, in hundreds of preventable cases if cancer, destroyed lungs, and shortened lives. This action also hurts those responsible employers who have already invested in life-saving equipment that will reduce silica-exposure. Why should they be put at a disadvantage competing with employers who have taken low-road?”
Too short a delay?
The 90-day-delay is not enough for the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC) whose members include the Associated General Contractors of America, the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Home Builders.
The group said it "is pleased that OSHA has recognized the need to develop guidance material for the construction industry before enforcing the respirable crystalline silica rule. While the CISC appreciates the 90-day delay in enforcement, the CISC remains concerned about the overall feasibility of the standard in construction and has requested that the Agency delay enforcement for a year."
The CISC was formed in response to the rule. It sent a report to OSHA in March 2015 that warned the silica rule would lead to the loss of 33,000 construction-related jobs and would be far costlier to industry than government estimates said it would.
Wreaking havoc on the ecomomy?
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA Jordan Barab dismisses those claims.
"The industry’s letter continues a long tradition of regulated industries claiming that OSHA standards would put them out of business, kill jobs and wreak havoc on the American economy," writes Barab in his Confined Space blog. Regulated industries always claim that OSHA regulations will the costs will be much larger than OSHA predicted, the benefits fewer and the requirements impossible to comply with.
"And they’re always wrong.
"A 1995 study by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) of the accuracy of the cost-benefit analysis conducted on several OSHA regulations looked at several OSHA standards that had been in effect for a number of years to determine the accuracy of cost and benefit estimates conducted by OSHA and the regulated industries. The study showed that not only does industry grossly overestimate expected costs (big surprise), but even OSHA routinely overestimated the costs and underestimated the benefits of standards. OTA found that part of the reason that OSHA overestimates costs is that the agency fails to take into account the ingenuity of American industry. American businesses have been particularly good at developing new technologies that are much more cost effective and efficient than OSHA had predicted."
Silica's health effects
About 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers. Occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica are associated with the development of silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and airways diseases. These exposures may also be related to the development of autoimmune disorders, chronic renal disease, and other adverse health effects.
OSHA’s Silica standard, which updated a 1971 standard, was issued over a year ago. The agency estimated that it will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year and provide net benefits of about $7.7 billion, annually.
OSHA had been working on the standards since the late 1990’s. The Department of Labor had been concerned about silica exposure since the 1930s, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended as far back as 1974 that exposure limits be reduced to the current level.
160 worker deaths
“The labor movement has fought for decades to win this lifesaving rule, and any further delay is unacceptable, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The longer the Trump administration delays, the more workers will suffer and die. This action alone will lead to an additional 160 worker deaths. We will do everything possible to make sure this commonsense rule is not taken away. Workers’ lives are at stake.”
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