OSHA announced on April 6 that it will be delaying the enforcement of its crystalline silica standard by three months.
Its final rule, Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica in Construction, was published on March 25, 2016 and went into effect on June 23, 206. Enforcement was originally intended to go into effect on June 23, 2017, but will now be enforced on September 23, 2017.
The rule establishes a new Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) as well as numerous additional provisions which apply to businesses operating in the construction industry. After many years in review after its original submission to the White House in February 2011, the Obama administration finally agreed that a nearly 50 percent cut in the PEL (down to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air) was necessary to protect the lives and health of exposed workers.
In its statement, OSHA justifies the delay by claiming it is necessary “in order to provide the opportunity to conduct additional outreach to the regulated community and to provide additional time to train compliance officers.”
The delay has been met with mixed reviews. Many in the construction injury are celebrating the new enforcement date, citing the need for time to prepare in order to prevent unnecessary negative impacts to their bottom lines. Experts from the National Association of Home Builders determined “the delay amounts to an estimated savings of $1,500 per builder, per start.”
On the other hand, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka believes the delay will have “deadly consequences,” and that that the longer the current administration puts off enforcement, “the more workers will suffer and die.” Trumka estimates that “[the 90-day delay] alone will lead to an additional 160 worker deaths.” Silica standards have not been updated since the 1970s.
In the meantime, OSHA still expects employers in the construction industry to continue preparing for the rule’s enforcement by taking steps towards observing the new PEL, and to prepare to implement and install any necessary controls. Additionally, employers should plan ahead for the rule’s other requirements such as exposure assessments, training, and medical surveillance.