Construction Groups Oppose Cutting Silica PEL

It took just five days for a new group calling itself the Construction Industry Safety Coalition to declare its opposition to OSHA's proposed rule to halve the existing general industry permissible exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica. Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels announced it Aug. 23, saying the agency wants to set a PEL of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day, and numerous safety groups quickly lined up to support it. The 50 PEL is half of the current general industry PEL, set in 1971, and Michaels said during the VPPPA annual conference that the current construction PEL is no longer valid but would be around 250.

Not surprisingly, the CISC claims this lower limit is impractical at best and unnecessary.

"We need practical, science-based solutions that protect workers in all facets of construction," Rick Judson, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, said Aug. 28. "Unfortunately, OSHA's initial announcement about this proposed rule indicates we aren't there yet."

"OSHA still has not explained how a lowered PEL will be effective at reducing the number of silica-related illnesses, particularly when the agency has admitted its failure to properly enforce the existing standard," Associated Builders and Contractors Vice President of Government Affairs Geoff Burr said Aug. 29. "The agency clearly missed an opportunity to take a cost-effective approach while still improving compliance and worker safety. ABC and our coalition partners are reviewing OSHA's proposal, and we look forward to the opportunity to express our concerns fully at the appropriate time."

Michaels said OSHA estimates the lower PEL would save about 700 lives per year and prevent 1,300 new silicosis cases annually.

The CISC members are:

  • Associated Builders and Contractors
  • Associated General Contractors
  • Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry
  • American Road and Transportation Builders Association
  • American Subcontractors Association
  • International Council of Employers of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers
  • Mason Contractors Association of America
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America
  • National Association of Home Builders
  • National Electrical Contractors Association
  • National Roofing Contractors Association

The National Association of Home Builders' response said the proposed rule "seems to call for one-size-fits-all measures that contradict existing safety and quality assurance practices for different types of contractors. For instance, spraying water to reduce dust may be practical in some construction projects, but using it inside a home while cutting granite counters can cause mold. In cold weather, spraying water while cutting asphalt roof shingles could cause ice to form on the slanted surface, endangering workers. Ventilation and dust-capture systems can inhibit the safe operation of tools. And if prescribed measures are not practicable, contractors might be forced to eliminate products with silica altogether, including concrete, brick, granite, and other common construction materials."

Posted by Jerry Laws on Sep 01, 2013