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Controversy rages over cost, benefits of proposed OSHA silica dust rule

Opponents say new regulations would cost too much and that agency should focus on enforcement of existing rules

May 03, 2014 |

OSHA’s proposal to beef up regulations on workers’ exposure to silica dust is generating a lot of controversy. The agency says current rules are outdated, difficult to understand, and inconsistent across industries.

Introduced in August 2013, the proposal would lower allowable levels of crystalline silica in all workplaces, standardize how the dust is calculated, and require medical monitoring for employees exposed to high levels.

OSHA estimates that 688 deaths and 1,585 silica-related illnesses would be prevented every year under the new rules. Opponents charge that the stricter regulations cost too much for the potential benefits. Joseph Brennan, a Cleveland attorney quoted in Crain’s Cleveland Business, said that since 1968, the rate of lung diseases related to silica has dropped by 90%. He indicated that stronger enforcement of existing rules might be a better way for OSHA to handle the issue.

Fred Hubbard Sr., secretary treasurer for the Ohio-Kentucky Administrative District Council of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, said OSHA seems to concentrate enforcement on only the biggest contractors. If a measure is going to impose a lot of costs onto work sites, it should be enforced across the board, he said. The union does support OSHA’s proposed stricter regulations, though.

OSHA has received about 2,000 comments on the proposal. The agency wrapped up public hearings on April 4. No timeline has been released, but OSHA’s final decision could be at least two years away.


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