Three weeks of public hearings conducted by OSHA regarding their proposed silica exposure rule have finally come to an end after the last session on April 4. Fully aware that their legislation could be potentially divisive as employers, employees, and other special interest groups all had their own opinions on the issue, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wanted to open the floor so everyone could have their voices heard.
Supporters of the bill, ranging from the American Cancer Society to AIHA, insist that setting new permissible exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica could drastically reduce the outbreak of silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, airway diseases, and autoimmune disorders. Testifying in support of the rule, AIHA Vice President Daniel H. Anna stated that, “Ultimately the question is, ‘will this proposal result in improved employee health and safety?’ AIHA answers a resounding ‘yes’ and supports OSHA’s efforts to move forward with the proposed rule that helps to protect worker health and reduce illnesses related to silica exposure.”
The opposition claims that the legislation, though sound in theory, will fail to translate to the real world. Contractors and building professionals understand that the environment in which they work hardly represents the safest of work environments. Typically, these areas are exposed to the elements and, though the potential risks are thoroughly examined, there are only so many actions one can take to promote worker safety. The proposed legislation would force employers to pay more to prevent worker exposure to respirable silica, which could affect the recovering industry’s ability to hire new workers, thereby stalling growth.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels thanked everyone who had contributed over the past couple weeks for their input. He continued that, “This is an open process, and the input we receive will help us ensure that a final rule adequately protects workers, is feasible for employers, and is based on the best available evidence.” OSHA has a difficult couple weeks ahead of it as the organization weighs the best possible direction for contractors and builders across the United States. If you would like to read transcripts from the hearings they are available to you here. And, as always, we will do our best to keep you updated on OSHA’s decision in the not so distant future.