NAHB Asks That New Silica Rule Be Pulled
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has requested that the government withdraw a proposed rule that would lower permissible exposure levels to crystalline silica for U.S. construction workers.
Airborne silica is created in a variety of common construction tasks, including cutting tile, fiber-cement siding, and concrete block, or otherwise crushing or grinding stone, brick, or mortar.
In announcing the new rule last August, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration said that tiny particles of silica can lodge in the lungs and cause a deadly disease called silicosis. Calling existing exposure limits inadequate and outdated, OSHA said that lower exposure limits would save as many as 796 lives a year and prevent 1600 new cases of the disease annually.
At the time, NAHB called the plan a “one-size-fits-all” approach that could force some builders to stop using common building materials. This week, the trade group said the rule would require “impractical medical surveillance, extensive and costly recordkeeping processes, and restrictions on certain construction site work practices, which contradict existing safety procedures.”
“The real problem here is that OSHA doesn’t understand how this rule would work on real world residential construction sites,” NAHB chairman Kevin Kelly, a home builder from Wilmington, Del., said in a prepared statement. “Before this rule moves forward, OSHA needs to work with us and our members to craft something that is pragmatic, workable and actually improves construction industry workers’ health and wellbeing.”
Further, NAHB said that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a decline in silicosis in recent decades. NAHB concluded that the government should use existing limits for silica until a comprehensive study proves that lower limits are really necessary.
NAHB also differs with the government over the potential cost of implementing the tighter rules. OSHA said compliance would cost $1242 annually in an average workplace, and that firms with fewer than 20 employees could expect to pay less than $550 a year. NAHB estimates the cost at $2.2 billion per year, four times what OSHA predicted.
In October, OSHA extended the comment period on the propsed rule change by a month and a half. Hearings are scheduled to start in Washington on March 18 and could last a couple of weeks.
“Given the many problems associated with the proposed rule, NAHB is urging OSHA to withdraw it, and instead, treat it as an advance notice of a proposed rule,” the NAHB statement said. “Doing so will allow the agency time to collect more comprehensive data and determine how best to align the rule with current industry practices.”