Steel Markets

OSHA’s Proposed Silica Exposure Rule Meets Opposition

Written by Sandy Williams

A group of construction industry trade associations have formed the Construction Industry Safety Coalition in response to a proposed OSHA rule on crystalline silica exposure. 

In an August 23 website posting, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommended a reduction of the permissible exposure limit for breathable silica. 

“Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential,” said Dr. David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor. “Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis-an incurable and progressive disease-as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease. We’re looking forward to public comment on the proposal.” 

Crystalline silica is a mineral component of the earth’s crust, most commonly occurring as quartz, and is found in industrial materials like sand, stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. A fine breathable dust occurs when the materials are cut, sawed, ground, drilled or crushed.  Sometimes known as “deadly dust,” exposure is common for workers in the construction industries, pottery manufacturing, and foundries and in fracking operations in the oil and gas industry. 

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, breathing silica dust is “associated with the development of silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and airways diseases. These exposures may also be related to the development of autoimmune disorders, chronic renal disease, and other adverse health effects.” OSHA says revising 40-year-old exposure limits will save nearly 7000 lives and prevent 1600 new cases of silicosis per year. 

The Coalition fears the proposed rule will place unnecessary expense and burden on the construction industry. The Associated Builders and Contractors estimates the cost of complying with new regulations could run as high as $1 billion to $2 billion per year. 

“OSHA’s proposed rule is a good starting point,” said Tom Skaggs, Chairman of MCAA’s Safety and Health Committee, and Vice President – Safety for the Murphy Company in St. Louis, MO. He added, “Several provisions in the proposed rule appear unnecessary for worker protection, and most likely will not be feasible for many construction firms. It is my hope that, by working with OSHA on the solution, MCAA and the coalition will be able to develop a practical rule for worker protection.” 

OSHA emphasized that the proposal is not a final rule and encourages commentary and participation in public hearings to develop a ruling that “ensures healthy working conditions for employees and is feasible for employers.”


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