Last November, the Natural Stone Council MSHA/OSHA Committee issued a position statement about OSHA’S recently released proposed silica rule. What follows is the Natural Stone Council’s (NSC) position statement in its entirety, with the caveat that the position paper is a working document and will be updated and revised as needed.
The following position paper is written on the behalf of The Natural Stone Council (NSC), which is comprised of 12 organizations representing all types of dimensional stone businesses that quarry and fabricate in the United States. The members include Allied Stone Industries, Building Stone Institute, Elberton Granite Association, Indiana Limestone Institute, Marble Institute of America, Mason Contractors Association of America, National Building Granite Quarries Association, National Slate Association, Natural Stone Alliance, New York State Bluestone Association, Northwest Granite Manufacturers Association, and Pennsylvania Bluestone Association. Collectively, all agree that employee safety is the first priority of the dimension stone industry.
On August 23, 2013, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) released a proposal (Docket ID# OSHA-2010-0034) to reduce the permissible exposure level (PEL) for silica by 50%. The new level would be 50 micrograms of respirable silica per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period. The U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) has stated its intent to issue a similar proposal for the mining industry. OSHA’s proposal has been published in the Federal Register and the public has until January 25, 2014 to submit written comments.
All NSC member organizations agree that airborne crystalline silica is dangerous and proven measures are necessary to protect exposed employees, but also believe that OSHA’s current silica PEL standard provides protection when best practices are applied in the workplace. If adopted into the Code of Federal Regulations, this new proposal will impact all dimension stone industry businesses that mine and process natural stone containing silica by increasing compliance costs and likely jeopardizing jobs.
In an effort to join with other industries affected by this proposal and to respond to OSHA with one voice, the NSC joined the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC). The CISC is comprised of several industry trade associations whose members represent thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of working men and women.
1. Data on silicosis cases does not show a need to modify the present PEL. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that the incidence of silica-related deaths declined by 93% from 1968 to 2007 under the current silica PEL. OSHA says a reduced PEL is needed and estimates that the change will save 700 lives per year and reduce the number of silicosis cases by 1600 per year. It is estimated that over 50% of businesses with airborne silica exposure have never been tested. How can the current PEL be deemed inadequate if it is not known whether or not the majority of the regulated businesses are in compliance?
2. OSHA has underestimated the compliance costs for affected businesses. Figures presented by OSHA estimate the rule will cost industry approximately $640 million to implement (an estimated cost of $550.00 per year for a business with fewer than 20 employees), and provide $3-5 billion in benefits. The American Chemistry Council estimates an implementation cost of $5.5 billion with $1.1 billion in lost revenue, and the Construction Industry Safety Coalition estimates the cost to implement at $1-2 billion with $700 million in benefits. Given the requirements of the new PEL, it appears that the Department of Labor has underestimated the cost to implement the change. If these figures are incorrect, the credibility of the entire OSHA report and proposal comes into question. The need for any federal rule change needs to be based on accurate data.
In addition to the cost of compliance, new regulations take away capital essential for expansion and/or improvement. While safety is vital, regulations that are not correlated to specifically-quantified diseases and/or injuries make U.S. companies less competitive in the global market.
3. There are serious questions about whether or not available sampling equipment and analytical methods can produce accurate results for the proposed limits. Evironomics, Inc. and the URS Corporation advised the American Chemistry Council (ACC) that measuring exposure to a 50 microgram PEL would be “impossible.” The testing methods for measuring silica concentrations below 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air are not accurate, and the margin of error is almost equal to the proposed PEL. How can compliance be determined if the technology does not exist to accurately determine the exposure level?
1. OSHA should indefinitely extend the comment period until their extensive report can be fully studied to determine the accuracy of the data. 135 days is not enough time to do this and address all questions.
2. To determine the true cost of the proposed PEL, and whether or not it is actually needed, we recommend these steps.
- First – perform an industry-wide analysis and investigation as to the actual number of businesses that present a silica exposure to their employees. Ascertain how many of these businesses have been inspected, and how many have silica-dust containment and controls in place for their workers. Quantify the number of businesses that potentially do not have controls in place or have never been inspected to establish the real effectiveness of the current PEL.
- Second – the Department of Labor should publish detailed information on actual diagnosed silicosis cases in OSHA-regulated businesses that were using proven engineering controls and NIOSH-recommended respirators.
- Third – OSHA should work with the stone industry to determine accurate costs of implementing the proposal.
3. Conduct independently-verified, risk-assessment studies to determine the true risks of silicosis in a compliant workplace. OSHA is obligated to provide the “best available evidence” on any new proposal, and this guideline must be followed. Sound decisions must be based on accurate information.
4. The NSC offers to work with OSHA (and MSHA) for practical and cost-effective crystalline silica regulation based on sound and proven data that will improve the safety and health protection of workers.
The dimension stone industry is a major part of the nation’s economy. According to recent Department of Labor figures, 4,380 stone quarries directly employed 35,248 workers, and 2,125 fabrication facilities directly employed 23,666 workers. Additional indirect employment is estimated to be greater than 100,000 people with a total estimated payroll for the industry approaching $4 billion annually. It is the Natural Stone Council’s belief that our government should be responsive to the needs and concerns of this industry.
Formed in 2003, the NSC unites a diverse industry of natural stone producers by bringing together the various natural stone associations to actively promote the attributes of natural stone. The NSC is funded entirely through donations. To learn about the NSC, its initiatives, and to pledge support, visit www.naturalstonecouncil.org. Duke Pointer, executive director, can be contacted at [email protected].