October 2013: Government Affairs

Words: Dan Kamys Government Affairs

OSHA Releases New Silica Exposure Rule

If allowed to proceed, the rule’s impact on the masonry industry would be drastic.

One of the biggest issues that the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) has been watching in Washington, D.C., for the last decade has finally come to a head. On Aug. 23, 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced the intention to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would mandate new regulations and workplace standards on employers to curb workers’ exposure to crystalline silica.

This proposed rule was officially printed in the Federal Register on Sept. 13, 2013, setting into motion the procedure of collecting public comments, holding public hearings on the proposed rule, and moving toward releasing a final rule. While we continue to study the hundreds upon hundreds of pages of the rule and related documentation that OSHA has released, we wanted to share with you some of the background on this issue and our initial concerns. It is imperative that you get involved with this issue, call your Members of Congress, and contact the MCAA to ask how you can be helpful in our efforts to block or amend this proposed rule.

Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring component of soil, sand, granite and other minerals. According to OSHA, about 1.85 million construction workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica annually. Exposure occurs during construction activities, when workers are cutting, grinding, crushing or drilling materials that contain silica, such as concrete, masonry, tile or rock.?? While continuing to mobilize efforts to completely digest and respond to this rule, we wanted to highlight the following first points:

The MCAA is very concerned about the safety and well-being of our members and workforce – so much so, that we led an effort to develop a standard on workplace silica exposure six years ago.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), from 1968 to 2007, the incidence of silicosis has been reduced by 93 percent. We have serious doubts that a further reduction of the Permissable Exposure Limit (PEL), as proposed in this rule, will impact those numbers.

Our jobsites are quite different than those of a factory setting. Conditions on our sites can change instantly. If the wind changes speed or direction, it can quickly impact our ability to monitor silica exposure as proposed in this rule.

Initial industry estimates put the cost to implement the new standard to be at a minimum of $1 billion, likely to exceed $2 billion – much higher than the estimated $637 million that OSHA has stated in the proposed rule.

OSHA, under federal law, was required to either certify that a rule would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small firms, or prepare a regulatory flexibility analysis and hold a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel prior to proposing the rule. OSHA has determined that a regulatory flexibility analysis was needed, but instead of convening a current SBAR, has instead decided that a previously held SBAR Panel from 2003 was sufficient for this rule.??We would argue that the economy is much different today than it was 10 years ago. We believe that this rule will hit our industry – composed of mainly small businesses – extremely hard.

We will continue to update you as the rulemaking process continues, and we update our summaries and talking points on the numerous aspects of this rule. We appreciate your extremely close attention to this issue and look forward to continuing to work with all of our MCAA members to ensure our employees remain safe and healthy. At the same time, we want to ensure that any OSHA rule is based on sound science and is technologically and economically feasible, per federal law.

Stephen A. Borg is VP of The Keelen Group, www.keelengroup.com, and can be reached at sborg@keelengroup.com.

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