Everyday across America workers in certain industries are exposed to Silica. How effective is OSHA’s proposed silica rule? Experts have mixed opinions about it.
Respirable crystalline silica is a known risk in the Construction, Maritime, General Industries and Manufacturing industries because it can cause a fatal lung disease called silicosis, and increases a worker’s risk to develop lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.
Based on OSHA’s fact sheet, the agency is changing its dated silica rule, which was based on 1960s research, to accommodate the needs of workers now. Respirable crystalline silica has also been identified as a human carcinogen since the adoption of the current permissible exposure limits (PELs). According to OSHA, the current PELs are not easy to understand and dated, allowing workers to be exposed to silica twice as much as the occupational exposure of general industry workers. “The proposed rule would provide consistent levels of protection for workers in all sectors covered by the rule,” the agency noted in its fact sheet on the matter.
This consistent level of protection, however, doesn’t seem favorable for some organizations like the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), which slams OSHA for its “one-size-fits-all measures that contradict existing safety and quality assurance practices for different types of contractors.” According to the Association, some recommended practices from OSHA, such as spraying water to reduce dust may work in some construction projects, but it could also cause mold to form inside a home when cutting granite counters. They also cited another example: spraying water when cutting asphalt roof shingles that may lead to ice formation on the surface in cold weather, which could make it slippery and pose as a risk to workers.
And when the recommended measures do not apply to contractors, they may be forced to stop using silica-containing materials, which will help them to remain in compliance of the said proposed rule.
Michael Marlow, a writer for The Hill, a congressional news-focused website, believes the problem lies more on the stringent implementation of the proposed rule and OSHA’s oversight when it comes to emphasizing the use of PPEs. According to Marlow, unless businesses strictly implement OSHA’s proposed silica limit, the proposed limit will have no bearing on the safety and health of workers. He also lamented OSHA’s failure to highlight the use of PPEs in mitigating the risks associated with silica exposure, considering that it’s more doable for workers and their employers, and more cost-effective than implementing the adjusted PELs.
Citing data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Marlow said that 40 percent of the samples collected by OSHA’s research arm are far beyond current standards for Construction, and a great number of workers are still exposed to over five times the proposed limit for silica exposure. OSHA claims that the proposed standard can prevent the occurrence of 1,600 new cases of silicosis and save 700 lives annually. And considering the ineffectiveness of the current standard, and the delay of the implementation of the rule, it seems like the whole industry will just have to wait and see whether they’ll really benefit from the new proposed rulemaking.