Business Lobby Coalition Bands Together to Thwart Regulation of Deadly Silica Dust


A group of 11 building and contracting associations have come together to further delay OSHA’s Silica Dust Regulations. Their motivation? The bottom line, of course.

In order to save money for their membership, the group of business lobbies is coming out of the anti-union shadows “to encourage OSHA to develop better choices for compliance with the construction-specific silica rule: alternatives that also address costs, consistency with existing federal regulations, and do not overly burden small businesses.”  Misleadingly named the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, the group relies on tried and true doublespeak anyone familiar with the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) would recognize. That might be because the ABC is a leading member of the group which appears to misunderstand the gravity of Silicosis and its relationship to silica dust.  

In fact, in their statement, ABC Vice President of Government Affairs Geoff Burr questions OSHA’s reasoning for recommending the new Silica Dust guidelines:

OSHA still has not explained how a lowered PEL will be effective at reducing the number of silica-related illnesses, particularly when the agency has admitted its failure to properly enforce the existing standard.  The agency clearly missed an opportunity to take a cost-effective approach while still improving compliance and worker safety.

The Construction Industry Safety Coalition will be made up of the following groups:

  • Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC);
  • Associated General Contractors of America (AGC);
  • Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry (AWCI);
  • American Subcontractors Association
  • American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA);
  • International Council of Employers of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (ICE);
  • Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA);
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCA);
  • National Association of Home Builders
  • National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA); and
  • National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA).

Proposed guidelines face a period of public debate 90 days after they enter the Federal Register.  Prior to these new guidelines, the “Construction Industry Safety Coalition” wasn't even a twinkle. Yet their misinformation campaign began posthaste when faced with the threat of their members having to make their workplaces safer.  Across the board, the coalition is questioning the science and methodology behind OSHA’s new regulations in a series of coordinated press releases.  In the release from the National Association of Home Builders, chairman Rick Judson says,

We need practical, science-based solutions that protect workers in all facets of construction.  Unfortunately, OSHA’s initial announcement about this proposed rule indicates we aren’t there yet.

In their lament for the new rules, the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry said:

The construction industry will likely be saddled with onerous new requirements, and the proposed silica standard may substantially alter its competitive structure. OSHA’s regulatory approach should use the most cost-effective means while still ensuring compliance and worker safety.

The American Subcontractors Association also got into the pity party, saddened by the length of the document OSHA put forth. Forget the quote-unquote regulatory burden of the new guidelines in practice, ASA Chief Advocacy Officer E. Colette Nelson can’t even be bothered to read the darn thing:

OSHA’s proposed rule runs 577 pages and details the steps that tens of thousands of specialty trade contractors will have to follow in order to be in compliance.

The AFL-CIO and its president Richard Trumka are adamant about the seriousness of this issue:

Workers exposed to silica dust will only be protected when a final rule is issued. Some industry groups are certain to attack the rule and try to stop it in its tracks. The AFL-CIO will do everything we can to see that this does not happen. We urge the Obama administration to continue moving forward with the public rule-making process without delay. The final silica rule should be issued as fast as humanly possible, to protect the health and lives of American workers

The largest labor lobby in the nation is not the only group in support of health standards regarding silica dust. Another organization taking the side of workers is the National Asphalt Pavement Association which has readied its 1,200 member companies to be “positioned to meet the new standard.”  This has been accomplished by introducing “simple retrofits for existing milling machines that effectively reduce potential silica exposure below OSHA’s new proposed PEL.” According to their statement:

Over the past decade, the Silica/Milling Machine Partnership — which is made up of the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), milling-machine manufacturers, labor, academia, and NIOSH — has worked to identify simple retrofits for existing milling machines that effectively reduce potential silica exposure below OSHA’s new proposed PEL. More advanced systems that could reduce dust and potential silica exposure even further have also been studied.

“The Partnership is committed to doing the best work possible to ensure that workers are safe and that any silica exposure is reduced to the absolutely lowest level possible,” said Tony Bodway, Operations Manager for Wisconsin-based contractor Payne & Dolan Inc. and Chairman of the Silica/Milling Machine Partnership. “These are complicated field trials, with lots of coordination and effort, all while working alongside government occupational health agency personnel. Everyone involved has been focused on ensuring we do our best.”

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