Business groups urge OSHA to dump silica rule

Business groups are sparring with labor and environmental groups over a rule the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says would protect workers from harmful silica dust.

OSHA originally proposed the silica rule last August before twice extending the deadline to file comments. The new deadline is Tuesday, with public hearings set to begin March 18.

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Labor and environmental groups argue the proposed silica rule would set in place much needed protections for construction and manufacturing workers who are exposed to silica. OSHA says the rule would prevent 700 deaths each year.

But business groups argue the new regulations would "unnecessarily" cut jobs and hurt the economy.

Dan Bosch, manager of regulatory policy at the National Federation of Independent Business, said the silica rule would hit small businesses particularly hard.

"NFIB strongly urges OSHA to withdraw the rulemaking because it has not shown that it is necessary, it will be extraordinarily expensive and complex to attain compliance, and it has failed to adequately consider the impact on small businesses and their employees," Bosch wrote in a comment letter.

In a comment filed with OSHA, the National Industrial Sand Association (NISA) argues that the agency has "no basis" for lowering the exposure level, because the current standards are adequate, but it also expressed support for other aspects of the rule.

"We strongly believe that OSHA's proposed drastic reduction in the permissible exposure limit is not necessary to protect workers and will unnecessarily cost jobs and hurt the national economy,"  NISA President Mark Ellis told OSHA.

But Ron White, director of regulatory policy at the Center for Effective Government, pointed to an OSHA study that estimates the silica rule would create jobs, contrary to industry arguments.

"It actually creates job; it doesn't harm jobs," he said in an interview.

The AFL-CIO called the rule "long overdue," in their comments filed Monday.

"The proposal will significantly reduce workers' exposures to deadly silica dust and prevent thousands of deaths and diseases a year," Peg Seminario, safety and health director at the AFL-CIO, wrote in her comments to the agency.

White also submitted comments to OSHA saying he supports the rule, but would like to see it go even further in reducing workers' exposure to silica dust.

"There are still very high risks for workers," White said.

Currently, OSHA regulations require companies to emit no more than 100 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air. The new rule would cut that level in half, but White believes there is evidence to suggest it should be as low as 25 micrograms.

"Several provisions of the proposal could and should be strengthened to provide workers further protection to reduce the risk of disease and death from workplace exposure to silica," Seminario wrote.

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