Silica Dust: Regulations and controversy challenge construction industry/government relationships


Chicago Construction News staff writer

The issue of whether there is a need for tightened regulations for silica dust in the construction industry has caused a major controversy when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last year under the previous Obama government introduced stringent respiratory protection and lower Permissible Exposure Level (PEL) dust count requirements as a national standard.

OHSA regulation CFR 1926.1153 covers various workers including those in construction sector and sets out respiratory protection requirements depending on the work performed, hours exposed and whether the work is indoors or outdoors.

However, eight construction industry organizations filed a petition for review of the final crystalline silica rule by OSHA with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in response to the regulations.

Petitioning groups included: 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.

The affiliated national organizations of these groups—the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, American Subcontractors Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, the Associated General Contractors of America, Mason Contractors Association of America, Mechanical Contractors Association of America and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)—said they will move to join the petition.

The construction industry raised numerous concerns regarding OSHA’s proposal, but the agency failed to address many of these issues when promulgating the final rule, says a NAHB news release. In particular, the industry presented evidence that OSHA’s proposed permissible exposure limit (PEL) was technologically and economically infeasible.

The petitioning groups are concerned that the agency failed to take into account this evidence and moved forward with the same PEL in the final rule,” the NAHBA said. “This and other final rule provisions display a fundamental misunderstanding of the real world of construction. The construction industry petitioners continue to be active participants in the rule making process and are dedicated to promoting healthy and safe construction job sites.”

Conceivably, the new Trump administration will move to relax or avoid implementation of the higher standards, in light of its stated policy to reduce regulatory burdens on businesses.

Notably, an Illinois study from 1998, which assessed and interviewed victims of the disease in the state, revealed that “silicosis continues to be a limited problem in Illinois.”  The authors Roy Maxwell and Holly Howe, who studied the disease’s occurrence between 1992 and 1997 for the Illinois Department of Public Health, reported the “largest grouping of industries with confirmed silicosis is found in primary metal manufacturers (iron foundries, steel mills, and nonferrous foundries) with 30 individuals.”

“Mining of sand, clay, and minerals is the next highest industrial grouping for silicosis with 18 individuals. Manufacturing of glass, brick, clay, porcelain, and stone contain the third highest number of silicosis industry groups with 15 individuals. These three industrial groupings account for more than 60% of the individuals with silicosis.”  The study reported that six of 104 reported occupational cases were in the “construction, painting, masonry, and special trades.”

In the meantime, there has been at least one recent OSHA citation regarding silica, though it is unclear how much of a penalty the contractor paid for the violations.

The OSHA issued three citations to JW Construction and Plastering Inc. in Burbank, IL in early December 2016 for failing to provide “the personal protective equipment and training needed to work with silica and portland cement.”

The company was fined $80,741, though most of these charges relate to other charges asserting that it exposed workers to serious fall hazards, for which the business had been cited for similar violations in 2014.


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