It's Time to Start Planning for Implementation of OSHA's Silica Rule

Apr 21, 2017 Published Article

Getting a notification from OSHA that your company is being investigated for a health or safety violation is an unwanted disruption to your business that could lead to a hefty monetary fine.  Worse yet, if your company is found to have committed multiple violations, OSHA may categorize your company as a severe violator, which makes you subject to follow-up inspections.  In the last 6 years, OSHA has added 520 companies to the Severe Violator Enforcement Program - sixty percent of which are in the construction industry.

New OSHA regulations impacting the construction industry may result in more companies facing investigations and fines, or worse yet, laying off workers and unable to compete for new work.  In 2013, OSHA proposed a new mandate to reduce silicosis in workers.  The mandate, which was revised multiple times before being made final in March 2016, requires that employers ensure their workers are exposed to no more than 50 micrograms of crystalline silica in an eight hour period (down from the current standard of 250 micrograms).  Under the new mandate, employers are also held to heightened reporting requirements, protective measures and medical testing for employees with extended exposure to silica.

In the construction industry alone, OSHA believes the new mandate will prevent 1,080 cases of silicosis and more than 560 deaths.  Builder and trade groups believe the new mandate will result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and cost the building industry billions of dollars.  The National Association of Home Builders estimates that the Silica Rule will cost homebuilders $1,500 per start.  While the two sides mount their arguments and seek support, how to implement the rule and its long term feasibility are still contested questions.

Recognizing the challenges employers will have with the heightened requirements of the Silica Rule, OSHA just announced that enforcement is being delayed 90 days to develop additional guidance for implementation of the rule in the construction industry.  The new start date for enforcement of the Silica Rule is September 23, 2017.*

Many in the industry are hoping the Trump administration repeals the Silica Rule like they have “blacklisting” and the Volks rule.  However, until that happens, OSHA expects your company to implement processes to ensure compliance by the new start date.

*The Silica Rule was adopted by Cal/OSHA in August 2016 even though Cal/OSHA’s own silica standard had been in place since 2008.  Cal/OSHA adopted the federal standard with the June 23, 2017 effective date; however; in an effort to synchronize with OSHA, Cal/OSHA recently announced that the effective date in California will also be September 23, 2017.