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Phyllis Harden

Legislative & Special Projects, Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel
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Industry Priorities

Silica Rule

Block OSHA from Implementing Crystalline Silica Rule

Background:

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has issues a final rule that would revise the standard on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The rule would significantly reduce the permissible exposure level for silica in the workplace to 50 micrograms per cubic meter.

Crystalline silica is found in numerous building materials and a number of construction activities result in the release of a certain amount of crystalline silica. Silica can be found in concrete, brick, gravel, stone, tile, as well as many other construction materials. Essentially, construction cannot occur without materials that contain silica. Because of the ubiquitous nature of silica, nearly every employee who performs work on a construction worksite will work with or near a product that contains it. While safety is the number one priority for the construction industry, the approach OSHA has taken to regulate crystalline silica exposure in the construction industry could actually compromise safety rather than improve it.

AGC Message:

The Rule is Not Technologically and Economically Feasible. OSHA’s rule prescribe control methods that contradict existing safety practices and compliance with it will ultimately cost the construction industry nearly $5 billion annually. Testing laboratories do not have the ability to measure air samples at the levels OSHA has proposed, meaning that employers will not be able to reliably determine whether they have met the requirements of the standard.

  • Laboratories that are Responsible for Analyzing Air Samples do not have the Ability to Measure Exposures Accurately. Independent studies, and even OSHA’s own testing, have shown that the laboratories that would be conducting the exposure testing are only able to determine within a margin of error of ± 50% what level of silica is present in the samples at the significantly lower exposure levels. This means that employers will not be able to reliably determine whether they have met the requirements of the standard.
  • The Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC) Estimates that OSHA’s Proposed Silica Standards will Cost the Construction Industry in the U.S. more than $4.9 billion Per Year. The cost estimate makes the rule potentially the most expensive OSHA regulation ever for the industry. About 80% the cost will be direct compliance expenditures and 20% of the cost will come in the form of increased prices that the industry will have to pay for construction materials and building products.

OSHA Has Not Estimated the Impact On Small Employers In Over 10 Years. OSHA last convened a small business advocacy review (SBAR) panel to consider an earlier proposed rule regulating crystalline silica in 2003. The 2003 panel recommendations resulted in OSHA withdrawing their original proposed silica rule. Since that time, the economy and the construction industry have changed drastically. In proposing this new rule regulating silica, OSHA has not only failed to convene a new small business advocacy review panel, but has also ignored the original 2003 panel recommendations.

The Rules Fails to Explain How Silica-Related Illnesses and Deaths will be Reduced. OSHA has not explained how a drastically lower PEL/action level will effectively reduce the number of silica-related illnesses and deaths. The agency itself has admitted a failure to properly enforce existing standards, while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported a 93 percent drop in silica-related deaths between 1968 and 2007. Further reductions through 2010 under the current regulation are expected.

Action Needed:

Prior to OSHA enforcing any silica rule OSHA should provide additional studies and reports including:

  • OSHA Should Conduct a New SBREFA. OSHA conducted a SBREFA review related to respirable crystalline silica in 2003 – more than ten years before the corresponding regulation was actually proposed. Since then, much has changed in the economy and in the workplace.
  • The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Should Conduct Additional Studies. NAS should study the ability of affected industries, particularly small businesses, to comply with the new standard. In addition, NAS should examine the ability to commercial laboratories to measure silica exposure accurately, consistently, and at the proposed OSHA exposure limit and proposed action level. Finally, NAS should also study the level of protection provided by personal protective equipment (PPE), the costs of the different types of PPE compared with the costs of engineering, and work practice controls.
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