Crystalline silica is a mineral component of the earth’s crust, most commonly occurring as quartz, and is found in industrial materials like sand, stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. A fine breathable dust occurs when the materials are cut, sawed, ground, drilled or crushed. Sometimes known as “deadly dust,” exposure is common for workers in the construction industries, pottery manufacturing, and foundries and in fracking operations in the oil and gas industry.
OSHA predicts that revising the 40-year-old exposure limits will save nearly 7000 lives and prevent 1600 new cases of silicosis – a deadly lung disease -- per year.
Thousands of deaths
“Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential," said Dr. David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor. "Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis-an incurable and progressive disease-as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease. We're looking forward to public comment on the proposal."
Public comment is already coming from the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, which was formed in response to the OSHA proposal.
“OSHA’s proposed rule is a good starting point,” said Tom Skaggs, of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, Inc. (MCAA). “Several provisions in the proposed rule appear unnecessary for worker protection, and most likely will not be feasible for many construction firms.”
$1-2 billion a year
The Associated Builders and Contractors said “independent studies” estimated that the cost of complying with new regulations could run as high as $1 billion to $2 billion per year.
Skaggs said the coalition intends to work with OSHA to develop “a practical rule” for worker protection from silica.
The coalition’s members are:
- Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)
- Associated General Contractors (AGC)
- Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry (AWCI)
- American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA)
- American Subcontractors Association (ASA)
- International Council of Employers of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (ICE)
- Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
- National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
- National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA)
- National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA)
OSHA emphasized that the proposal is not a final rule and encourages commentary and participation in public hearings to develop a ruling that “ensures healthy working conditions for employees and is feasible for employers.”