By Steve Rizer
Even if it tried, could the U.S. construction industry successfully implement the Obama administration’s plan for protecting workers from the dangers of crystalline silica? Anyone hoping to get a clear answer to this question by reading the breadth of comments that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has collected on this topic in recent weeks may be sorely disappointed.
At issue is OSHA’s proposed Crystalline Silica Rulemaking for the construction industry, potentially requiring employers to measure the amount of silica that workers are exposed to if the compound may be at or above an action level of 25 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air (µg/m3), averaged over an eight-hour day (ConstructionPro Week/CPW, Sept. 13, 2013, “How Much Should it Cost to Protect Construction Workers from Respirable Crystalline Silica?”). Employers also would be compelled to protect workers from respirable crystalline silica exposures above a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3, averaged over an eight-hour day.
On one hand, there is this Feb. 14 statement from the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC), which represents 25 construction trade associations: “The proposed rule’s new silica exposure limit is virtually impossible to accurately measure or protect against using existing technology. For example, commercially available dust-collection technology is not capable by itself of protecting workers from the rule’s new silica exposure limit -- a limitation the agency appears to acknowledge in its additional requirement that workers also wear respirators, something that would not be necessary if the dust-collection technology was effective.”
On the other hand, AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) believes OSHA has demonstrated that the proposed PEL “is feasible, both in terms of control technology and measurement.” Commenting on behalf of about three million unionized construction workers, BCTD asserted that, “as demonstrated in Table VIII-7 in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking preamble [78 Federal Register, Sept. 12, 2013, p. 56356, which can be accessed at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-09-12/pdf/2013-20997.pdf], for a significant proportion of construction tasks involving silica dust-generating activities, silica exposures can be brought to levels below the proposed PEL using available engineering and work practice controls.” In addition, “as OSHA has demonstrated and documented in its Preliminary Economic Analysis and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis, there is sound evidence that reliable and available methods exist to conduct appropriate air sampling and to accurately analyze the samples down to the proposed action level.”
The ConstructionPro Network member version of this article contains additional comments from CISC and portions of CPW’s interview with BCTD representative Chris Trahan.