Silica Protection Laws Delayed Again Through U.S. Labor Department – Why?

Despite years of work, extensive stakeholder meetings, decades of patience, and hundreds of annual fatalities, the Department of Labor is yet again delaying full enforcement of the Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction standard that was finalized and ready for implementation in 2016. This postponement, announced three-days before the September 23rd deadline, delays OSHA’s enforcement of the new standard by an additional 30 days and comes on the heels of a previous three-month enforcement suspension, which pushed the initial compliance deadline from June 23rd to September 23rd. According to the current administration, these steps are necessary because “the construction industry is facing the most immediate and dramatic reduction in the [silica] exposure limit,” and employers need time to digest the new standard and comply.  However, when one analyzes the years of procrastination and deflection surrounding the silica standard, it becomes quite apparent that this is simply not true.  In 1997 OSHA committed to moving forward with stronger protections.  Is two-decades of discussion, revision, and finalization not enough time to prepare? Is having had a completed, finalized standard since 2016 not an adequate amount of time to figure out internal compliance issues?

This chronic delay in enforcement has been attacked by proponents of stronger silica regulations as nothing more than procrastination at the behest of industry lobbyists. Supporters of the new standard simply point to the fact that William Wehrum, a lawyer representing one of many industry groups in court as they sue OSHA over the new standard, has been nominated by the Drumpf administration to serve as assistant administrator for air and radiation at the EPA. This is a man who is on record as saying, “People are designed to deal with dust – people are in dusty environments all the time.” Furthermore, it is also worth noting that administration officials, are requesting that inspectors minimize enforcement during this new 30-day delay by only issuing citations for employers who don’t appear to be making an effort to comply and also mandating that “the head office must sign off on any proposed citations.” While only being allowed to cite employers who do not seem to be making a good-faith compliance effort may not seem significant, former deputy assistant secretary at OSHA, Jordan Barb, maintains that, “it’s extremely difficult for OSHA inspectors to prove that an employer is acting in ‘bad faith,’ effectively taking the teeth out of its enforcement phase-in. This, coupled with the fact that enforcement officials are now required to run citation approval up the chain of command at the densely bureaucratic Department of Labor, will certainly quell, if not entirely eliminate all enforcement within the window of this additional thirty-day delay.

OSHA itself has estimated that the new standard would prevent 642 deaths and 918 cases of silica-related illnesses every year. Therefore, delaying implementation will not only impact the health and safety of hundreds of workers annually, but will also result in increased spending on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Programs which many exposed workers are currently reliant on. We can only hope that this delay is the last in a series of obstructionist tactics that has become all too familiar in Washington.

In support of the new standards, CHC Training is now offering these OSHA compliant classes:

Silica in Construction Awareness (~1.5hrs): Formatted for crew in compliance with CR 1926.1153(i)(2) and includes an overview of the new OSHA Silica Standard, background and health effects, engineering controls, and exposure identification methods.

Silica in Construction Competent Person (~3hrs): Formatted for Supervisors in compliance with CR 1926.1153(i)(2) and includes an overview of the new OSHA Silica Standard, background and health effects, engineering controls, exposure identification methods, personal sampling, Respiratory Protection Plan, medical surveillance, and air monitoring.


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