Industry Study Finds OSHA’s Silica Proposal Will Cost Employers Billions Nearly 53,000 full-time jobs would be lost, study concludes

By Roy Maurer May 1, 2015
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A coalition of construction industry groups released a report stating that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposal to regulate workplace silica will cost employers $4.9 billion annually, about 10 times the agency’s current official $511 million annual cost estimate.

The Construction Industry Safety Coalition’s revised economic analysis of the silica proposal includes an additional $1 billion in costs not included in the group’s estimate submitted to OSHA’s silica rulemaking docket, which closed in August 2014.

The new analysis shows that an additional $1.05 billion of indirect costs will be placed on the construction industry in the form of increased prices paid for construction materials and building products when manufacturers of those materials pass on some of their costs of complying with the general industry portion of the standard, said Brad Hammock, a shareholder in the Washington, D.C., office of Jackson Lewis and an attorney representing the coalition.

The remaining $3.9 billion in costs “will be direct compliance expenditures by the construction industry for additional equipment, labor, productivity losses, monitoring, respirators, medical surveillance and record-keeping,” he said.

Hammock said that the coalition believes that “OSHA has made major errors in its cost and impact analyses” and that OSHA should reconsider its approach.

The coalition also asserted the proposed rule would lead to a reduction of 52,700 full-time jobs from the construction sector and supplier industries, as well as nonconstruction jobs impacted by the loss of construction work.

“This report reveals the critical need for OSHA to withdraw its proposed rule until it can put forth a technologically and economically feasible rule that also works to improve industry workers’ health and safety,” said Tom Woods, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, in a press release.

“These errors raise serious and significant questions about many of the other assumptions the agency relied upon in crafting its new rules,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, in a press release. “We need measures in place that are going to allow all of us to continue the significant improvements in silica safety the industry has made, and the sad truth is that the agency’s rule is too riddled with errors to do that.”

Proposal Would Cut PEL for Construction by 80 Percent

The current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica has not been updated since 1971. The current general industry PEL for quartz, the most common form of crystalline silica, is roughly 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average. The current PEL for quartz in construction and shipyards is approximately 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air and based on an outdated particle count sampling method, according to OSHA. The current PELs for two other forms of crystalline silica (cristobalite and tridymite) are one-half the values for quartz in general industry.

OSHA’s proposed new PEL—50 micrograms per cubic meter of air to cover all three silica types for all industry sectors—was first recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1974. The proposal also contains ancillary provisions—updated requirements for exposure assessment and control, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and record-keeping—to match the lowered PEL.

OSHA has said the proposed rule will provide “flexible alternatives” to allow employers to choose which dust-control measures would perform best in their work environments.

“Today, many employers across the country apply common sense, inexpensive and effective control measures that protect workers’ lives and lungs, like keeping the material wet so dust doesn’t become airborne, or using a vacuum to collect dust at the point where it is created before workers can inhale it,” the agency said. “Tools that include these controls are readily available, and the rule is designed to give employers flexibility in selecting ways to meet the new standard.”

OSHA estimates more than 2 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica each year. The agency asserts that the proposed rule will result in saving nearly 700 lives per year and will prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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