The American Subcontractors Association (ASA) recently decried a rule proposed by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulating the use of crystalline silica on construction projects as “confusing and burdensome without meeting the shared goal of improved worker safety and health.”

Released by OSHA on Aug. 23 during a news conference, the proposed rule seeks to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica, a natural occurring component of soil, sand, granite, and other minerals. Many common construction operations in dozens of specialty trade activities involve silica, including those that cut, grind, crush, or drill materials that contain silica, such as concrete, masonry, tile or rock.

“OSHA’s proposed rule runs 577 pages and details the steps that tens of thousands of specialty trade contractors will have to follow in order to be in compliance,” said ASA Chief Advocacy Officer E. Colette Nelson.

ASA and its advisors are reviewing and studying the rule in order to submit informed comments to OSHA to help the agency revise the rule to better help contractors protect the health and safety of their employees.

“ASA’s goal is to help OSHA develop a final rule that leaves little ambiguity about what construction contractors must do to comply and to protect their workers,” Nelson said.

Under OSHA’s proposed rule, a construction employer would have to measure and keep records of the amount of respirable crystalline silica that its workers are exposed to if it may be at or above 25 μg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), averaged over an eight-hour day. An employer would have to protect its workers if the exposure is above a permissive exposure level (PEL) of 50 μg/m3, averaged over an eight-hour day. According to ASA, OSHA’s proposed rule essentially provides four ways to protect workers from crystalline silica:

• Train workers on the dangers of silica exposure and ways to mitigate exposure.

• Limit workers’ access to areas where they could be exposed above the PEL.

• Use dust controls to protect workers from silica exposures above the PEL.

• Provide respirators to workers when dust controls cannot limit exposures to the PEL.

For more information about OSHA’s proposed rule on crystalline silica, see the ASA Special Report on the OSHA Proposed Rule on Crystalline Silica.

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) in conjunction with the newly formed Construction Industry Safety Coalition, a group of national construction industry trade associations of which ASA is a member, issued similar sentiments over the OSHA proposal.

“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,” said ABC Vice President of Government Affairs Geoff Burr. “The agency clearly missed an opportunity to take a cost-effective approach while still improving compliance and worker safety.”

The Construction Industry Safety Coalition is urging OSHA to develop technologically feasible alternatives for compliance with a silica rule that address costs and consistency with existing federal regulations and do not overly burden small businesses. In addition, the coalition said the agency should consider factors unique to construction, as industry-specific tasks and activities are highly variable and change constantly as projects progress.