OSHA Extends Enforcement Deadline for Construction Silica Rule

Construction firms will have an extra 30 days to comply with the new, tougher Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard for airborne silica in the industry’s job sites.
OSHA did begin enforcing the construction silica regulation on Sept. 23. But Thomas Galassi, Labor Dept. acting deputy assistant secretary, said in a Sept. 20 memo to regional OSHA administrators that, for 30 days, the agency’s compliance officers will not issue penalties to employers that demonstrate a “good faith effort” to meet the new requirements.
Companies that do not appear to be taking steps to comply, however, may receive citations, Galassi said.
A coalition of construction industry groups has challenged the rule in court, contending that it is not technically or economically feasible and does not take the constantly changing nature of construction work into consideration.
A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard oral arguments in the case on Sept. 26.
Labor unions and worker advocates say that exposure to silica dust causes a host of illnesses, including silicosis and lung cancer, and that technologies to protect workers are available and inexpensive.
OSHA says that the rule will save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year.
The standard, finalized in March, establishes a new eight-hour, time-weighted average permissible exposure limit of 50 µg/m3   , approximately one-fifth the previous maximum.
Under the new standard, employers also must develop a written exposure-control plan that identifies tasks that might be expose workers to silica dust and methods used to protect workers.
Additionally, companies must train employees to limit exposures and keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams. The regulation provides flexibility for small businesses, through a table that lists a variety of paths to achieve lower silica exposures.