Waiting to Inhale…the New Silica Rule

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July 24, 2017
By Kristen Ammerman

Controversy concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) impending new silica rule continues to raise dust over the construction industry, and the roofing sector in particular has aired a prime area of concern surrounding the regulation. Consultants who also spend time around construction products that commonly contain crystalline silica, such as cement mortar, concrete, aggregates, plaster, drywall, and some joint compounds, may be exposed to the particles of dust which have the potential, when aspirated, to cause lung cancer, silicosis, and other respiratory ailments.

The new rule, implemented in 2016 and initially scheduled to be enforced within the construction industry as of June 23 of this year, has received a three-month delay to September 23.

The rule requires an 80% reduction over previous regulations in respirable crystalline silica on average during an eight-hour shift. OSHA documents claim the new rule will save 600 lives and prevent 900 cases of silicosis each year. It requires employees to use engineering controls, such as water or ventilation; to limit worker exposure; and to develop written exposure control plans and train workers on silica risks. (Read OSHA’s final rule.)

Wet cutting methods used to reduce silica exposure could cause trip and fall hazards, according to the NRCA.
Opponents within the roofing industry of the law’s new strictures claim that it may cause additional hazards for contractors—particularly on sloped roofs. William Good, formerly of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), wrote in 2016 that the rule will “increase fall hazards for roofing workers by requiring contractors to implement engineering controls that are not suited to work performed on sloped roofs.” The rule, he claimed, would “likely…require workers who face even minimal amounts of exposure to silica dust to use wet cutting methods and dust masks…[and] wet saws on the rooftop, introducing new hazards such as slipping on wet surfaces and tripping on hoses.” (Read NRCA’s statement on the rule.)

The Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC), consisting of 25 construction trade and related organizations, including the NRCA, released a statement that “The rule imposes burdensome ancillary requirements regarding exposure assessment, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, recordkeeping and housekeeping.”

According to Mark Fowler, executive director of the Stucco Manufacturers Association, OSHA has said in meetings that the agency “will accept objective data collected by trade groups to customize respiration protection for each task and material.” To that end, NRCA, according to Professional Roofing, is “embarking on a research project to compile objective data for a variety of operations undertaken by roofing contractors. …The expectation is that compilation of such data will assist contractors with assessing the risk to roofing workers while avoiding costly air monitoring and guiding the selection of control methods to minimize or eliminate silica exposure.”