On March 24, (OSHA) issued new regulations to significantly tighten the existing federal standard for allowable worker exposure to crystalline silica dust: a basic component of dust from soil, sand, granite and other construction related minerals. Exposure levels would be limited to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift, compared to the previous 250-micrograms level for the construction industry.
These regulations are due to go into effect on June 23, giving construction companies one year to comply. After a 17-year battle, including its concerns being ignored in the final rulemaking process, ARTBA joined an early April lawsuit filed in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Multiple issues cited by ARTBA include:
Unworkable air sampling requirements. Sampling and testing procedures for silica exposure are not only time-consuming, the tested workplace location and conditions will typically change by the time results are in hand.
Compromising other safety concerns. An inordinate focus on silica exposure would divert significant human and financial resources from mitigating and eliminating other serious hazards, including runovers, backovers and work zone intrusions.
Unintended negative health effects. By requiring workers to wear respirators in hot environments, there is potential exposure to otherwise avoidable heat stroke and stress.
The use of outdated data. OSHA health-data studies used to craft the regulation go back as far as the 1930s. More recent data shows dramatic silica exposure reductions under the existing standard. According to the CDC, deaths due to silicosis have declined 93% over a 40-year period. Also, OSHA estimates the new standard will cost the construction industry about $659 million a year — while an independent analysis co-sponsored by ARTBA estimates the cost at $2.2 billion.
As ARTBA believes these burdensome silica exposure regulations will also increase overall safety risks to transportation construction workers, it is financially supporting litigation to stop implementation of this unwarranted regulatory action.