Industry groups are gearing up to seek changes in a proposed rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that sets new standards on how much silica dust a person can be exposed to on the jobsite.
If adopted, the rule would update 40-year-old permissible exposure limits (PELs) for crystalline silica in construction and other industries. Once in it takes full effect, the rule will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually, OSHA believes.
Construction groups such as the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) fear the rule imposes too many standards based on too little evidence.
“It may be as much of a dust standard as a crystalline silica standard because they don’t want to see any dust on the jobsite,” said one participant at an NAHB Remodelers committee meeting in October when the issue arose. The NAHB has hired an industrial hygienist to examine the problem. “We want to shape this, but we need the administration to have some real data,” an NAHB staffer said.
The Construction Industry Safety Coalition, newly formed by the NAHB and 17 other associations, is citing studies that suggest compliance costs could top $1 billion per year. Press reports cite OSHA estimates that, for a small business in general industry, the cost would be about $2,600 per year.
Silica dust is a problem that affects many industries, especially construction workers cutting stone, concrete, and brick; doing drywall finishing; and using jackhammers or earth-moving equipment. OSHA estimates that about 1.85 million of those workers are currently exposed to breathable crystalline silica, with one third exposed to levels that top its proposed PEL of ?25 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air averaged over an eight-hour day.
OSHA’s solutions are to limit access to dusty areas, install dust controls on equipment, provide respirators to workers, and offer medical exams.