Silica dust: Regulations and controversy challenge construction industry/government relationships


Canadian Design and Construction Report staff writer

The issue of whether there is a need for tightened regulations for silica dust in the construction industry has caused controversy as government agencies seek to introduce stringent respiratory protection and low Permissible Exposure Level (PEL) dust count requirements as a national standard in both the U.S. and Canada.

Several states, including California, have drafted their own regulations in concert with the tougher federal guidelines, over the objections of several industry groups. There has also been controversy in western Canada.

The U.S. Department of Labor ‘s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) introduced regulation CFR 1926.1153 in 2016, covering construction employers. The rules set out respiratory protection requirements depending on the work performed, hours on the job, and whether the work is indoors or outdoors.

However, eight construction industry organizations filed a petition for review of the final crystalline silica rule by the OSHA with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in response to the regulations.

Petitioning groups included: Mississippi Road Builders’ Association, American Subcontractors Association of Texas, Pelican Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, Louisiana Associated General Contractors, Associated Masonry Contractors of Texas, Distribution Contractors Association, Mechanical Contractors Associations of Texas and Texas Association of Builders.

The affiliated national organizations of these groups—the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, American Subcontractors Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, the Associated General Contractors of America, Mason Contractors Association of America, Mechanical Contractors Association of America and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)—said they will move to join the petition.

The construction industry raised numerous concerns regarding OSHA’s proposal, but the agency failed to address many of these issues when promulgating the final rule, says a NAHB news release. In particular, the industry presented substantial evidence that OSHA’s proposed permissible exposure limit (PEL) was technologically and economically infeasible

“The petitioning groups are concerned that the agency failed to take into account this evidence and moved forward with the same infeasible PEL in the final rule,” the NAHBA said. “This and other final rule provisions display a fundamental misunderstanding of the real world of construction. The construction industry petitioners continue to be active participants in the rule making process and are dedicated to promoting healthy and safe construction job sites.”

Conceivably, the new Trump administration will move to relax or avoid implementation of the higher standards, in light of the stated policy to reduce regulatory burdens on businesses.

The silica dust issue has also been contentious in Canada, especially in British Columbia and Alberta.  The Alberta Construction Association in 2016 created “silica guidelines” and reported that it is “working with the Alberta Construction Safety Association to develop awareness and supervisor training for 2017.

“Once these practices are well established on Alberta job sites, ACA plans to test them with OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) to obtain hard evidence to confirm whether the current statutory limit is technically and economically feasible,” the ACA said.


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