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Apr 2016

OSHA Silica Ruling: All Isn't Crystal Clear


OSHA Silica Ruling: All Isn't Crystal Clear

This article is a follow up to our summary of the regulation.

The newly established OSHA policy on Crystalline Silica should go a long way in reducing worker exposure rates to the dangerous material. Although the OSHA ruling actively enhances the working conditions for construction and general industry employees, all is not well with the companies themselves.

Fallout from OSHA’s ruling?

After the OSHA ruling, a lawsuit formed rapidly alleging that the new regulations would do more harm than good to construction companies in the US. The lawsuit was formed at the bidding of 8 different companies. Their claim? That the OSHA ruling undermines the technological and economic efficiency of their respective companies.

What concerns does the Construction Industry have?

The OSHA ruling calls for the PEL (permissible exposure level) to be reduced. The new PEL is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. This is down from 100 for General Industry, and 250 from Construction. This reduction in the PEL requires that employers monitor and maintain the air quality to an average of 50 micrograms per cubic meter for every 8 hour shift. The construction companies filing the lawsuit claim that the new standards are too strict and will require that resources be rerouted to meet them. In rerouting resources these Companies worry they may be exposing workers to other risks due to monetary and technological constraints. Ultimately, there may be an increase in hazardous situations due to the heightened focus on Crystalline Silica.

Industry has self regulated resulting in a significant reduction in Silica deaths already.

Health studies from the CDC indicate that by 2002 there had already been a 93% reduction in Silica related deaths since 1968. This reduction indicates that technological advances and precautions have effectively limited the number of deaths, even before the new OSHA ruling was in effect. This key fact supports the companies’ lawsuit claim that there is no basis for the new regulations.

Economic hardship resulting from increased regulation

Material cost is another factor that worries construction companies. The new OSHA regulations could drive up the cost for concrete and other building materials as companies try to compensate for rising costs in other areas. The technology to combat and monitor the Silica levels, along with a loss in productivity will put the strain on each company’s finances.

The new OSHA ruling requires that workers be provided with respirators when the worksite cannot be verified to meet the new PEL. This presents another problem for construction companies as respirators are an economic burden they had not had to deal with so extensively in the past. Construction sites are not permanent, and workers are required to move around frequently. This presents a situation where lab tests to determine the PEL may not be efficient enough to keep up with the various construction projects. Thus, employers claim they will have to provide respirators to all employees, which comes at a significant cost. Respirators also elevate the risk of heat stress and heat stroke. So, again, in combating one hazard they may be creating another.

Unfair for the Construction Industry?

Essentially, the case these 8 construction companies make is built around the proverbial wrench OSHA throws in construction plans. Sure, the new regulations are attainable and can be met. However, these 8 companies feel as though the regulations will significantly impact their business operations.  They maintain the regulations will make it harder to complete projects on schedule and negatively affect the efficiency of their workers. Additionally, the new regulations are harder on the construction industry than on the general or hydraulic fracturing industries. Construction Industries are required to slash their PELs from 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down to only 50. In contrast the General Industries need only make the cut to 100 micrograms. The crushing, sawing, drilling, and breaking of materials in the construction industry make it more difficult to maintain the regulated level.

The OSHA ruling certainly aims to protect workers and makes a strong stand for occupational safety. Change doesn’t always come easy, and with this one there has been a backlash, despite the lives that will be saved. The new regulations are an answer to prayer for some, and a new nightmare for others. It is all about perspective, but it isn’t all crystal clear.

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