Don’t be blindsided by OSHA’s proposed crystalline silica rule

by Kacey Larsen

NARI is working to spread the word: respirable crystalline silica is dangerous and there should be regulation regarding how the dust is handled on jobsites. But if the proposed regulation from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) passes in its current form, then your companies may operate very different in the future.

Bruce Case, president of Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, Md., and Chairman of the NARI Government Affairs Committee, explains that the proposed rulemaking restricts how much exposure people can have to silica. There are two proposed standards: one for the general industry and maritime, and the other for the construction industry. OSHA’s standard for the construction industry includes suggested methods for controlling exposure to silica, like respirators, medical surveillance, hazard communication and more.

“NARI’s position is that silica causes silicosis. Silica is dangerous at high levels, so we’re not disagreeing that there should be any regulation. But what we are saying is that the regulation needs to be reasonable,” Case says. The association has several concerns with the proposed regulation and the effects it could have on the remodeling industry.

  1. A concern would be the cost of following the regulation. An employer would need to provide dust controls for any and all jobsites where employees could be exposed to more than the permissible exposure limit of 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air, and if dust controls aren’t enough then respirators would need to be provided. Also, employers will be required to offer medical exams that include chest X-rays, lung function tests and blood tests. OSHA estimates the average cost of compliance to be approximately $1,000 per employee. “We’re begging the question: are there ways to reduce silica exposure, but in ways that don’t cost as much?” Case says.
  2. NARI wants OSHA to explain how the construction industry is supposed to use to be in compliance. “We’ve talked to manufacturers of products used to control the exposure  and we’re hearing –and we’re not experts at respirators or things like that –that they don’t have things that meet the proposed OSHA standards,” he says. “So can a remodeler go out and buy things that will reduce the exposure or not? If they’re not available now or if they are and we don’t know what they are, we just want OSHA to help us understand.”
  3. Creating a regulation for the construction industry as a whole, without any tailoring, could mean that the regulation would be the same no matter the size of the company and/or the size of the job, so NARI is seeking a “seat at the table” with OSHA to point out the affect this regulation could have on the remodeling industry. “As a theoretical example, a whole dust containment system and extraction system set up to meet lower exposure levels is one thing to set up in an office building where 20 people are working with drywall, but if you’re doing a small patch repair in a homeowner’s living room on the remodeling side of things?” Case asks. “We could set all that up, but that has an effect on the project’s price and the homeowner, which is going to be much different than the effect on an unoccupied commercial building.”

While nothing with this regulation has been set yet, OSHA is now reviewing the feedback they received from the industry, health officials and others during an open comment period. What happens next with the proposed crystalline silica rule is completely up to them, but Case does think it’s important to get educated on the issue and let your voice be heard while you still have the opportunity by writing to your elected officials or to OSHA.

“I know there was a lot of uproar in the remodeling industry about the lead paint regulation that came through with the Environmental Protection Agency years ago. This is as big a deal if not bigger in terms of how it will affect, not just cost, but how it will affect the day-to-day workings of a project,” he says. “If we can at a minimum make remodelers aware of the proposed regulation because getting blindsided by something like this is not going to be good.”

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