A coalition of eight construction trade groups has asked a federal appeals court for a second opinion on a new and more stringent rule on workplace exposure to silica dust announced late last month by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Representing a variety of trade groups from around the country, the petitioners asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on April 4 for a review of the rule that OSHA hopes to put into place for the construction industry in June 2017. The new rule reduces permissible levels of exposure to silica dust by 80%. The dust is produced when rock, concrete, or other masonry materials are cut or drilled.
Industry groups said in a joint press release that they had raised a number of objections to the proposed rule that OSHA didn’t take into account. The groups also say that the rule will cost much more than OSHA estimates to put into practice.
“In particular, the industry presented substantial evidence that OSHA’s proposed permissible exposure limit (PEL) was technologically and economically infeasible,” the groups said. “The petitioning groups are concerned that the agency failed to take into account this evidence and moved forward with the same infeasible PEL in the final rule.
“This and other final rule provisions display a fundamental misunderstanding of the real world of construction,” the statement continues. “The construction industry petitioners continue to be active participants in the rulemaking process and are dedicated to promoting healthy and safe construction job sites.”
First rewrite in more than 40 years
In rewriting rules for silica exposure for the first time since the 1970s, OSHA lowered the permissible levels from 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 50 micrograms per cubic meter, calculated as an average over an eight-hour period. Dust exposure is blamed for crippling lung diseases, including cancer, and OSHA said that the tightened regulations would save more than 600 lives every year.
The petitioners include the Mississippi Road Builders’ Association, American Subcontractors Association of Texas, Pelican Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, Louisiana Associated General Contractors, Associated Masonry Contractors of Texas, Distribution Contractors Association, Mechanical Contractors Associations of Texas, and Texas Association of Builders.
In addition, the group said, affiliated national organizations representing these groups would seek to join the petition.
Organizations representing workers, on the other hand, have applauded the stricter limits. North America’s Building Trade Unions, for example, issued a statement which said, “We believe that the agency has been diligent in its efforts to hear and consider all stakeholders’ input, and done a great job in getting the rule out,” NABTU said in a news release. “It is beyond debate that silica exposure kills construction workers. It causes silicosis – a deadly lung disease – lung cancer, and other diseases. Silica-related diseases cannot be cured, but they can be prevented. Put simply, the OSHA Silica Standard will protect construction workers from getting sick or dying from exposure to silica dust.”
The AFL-CIO also said that it backed the new rules because they would save lives and reduce silica-related illnesses.