By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory affairs & assistant general counsel, ARTBA

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) March 24 released its final regulation for exposure to crystalline silica. The rule, first proposed in 2013, significantly tightens the standard for worker exposure to this basic component of dust from soil, sand, granite and other minerals.

The new rule takes effect June 23, but construction companies have one year to comply.

As it has throughout the regulatory process, ARTBA staff has begun carefully reviewing the 1,772-page final rule to determine its impacts on the membership, which could prompt future legislative or legal actions. While OSHA contends the regulations are necessary to improve worker protection from exposure to silica dust, ARTBA has warned the agency’s proposal is flawed and threatens the safety of highway crews and motorists.

ARTBA has explained in both regulatory comments and face-to-face meetings with OMB and OSHA officials that OSHA used both outdated data and a faulty economic analysis in reaching the new standard.  Specifically, OSHA relied on studies from 1930 – 1960, thus ignoring the successes of modern technology that have dramatically reduced silica exposure in road work zones.  ARTBA also stated the agency may be doing more harm than good by requiring workers to wear respirators in hot environments, potentially exposing them to heat stroke and stress.

ARTBA has also noted that by diverting significant resources to address a hazard that is minimally harmful in transportation construction operations, OSHA is reducing the resources needed to protect workers from more significant hazards, such as struck-by incidents. The association has also reminded agency officials that funds for transportation come primarily from tax dollars, and that money spent complying with this standard will reduce other public safety investments such as guardrail replacement and pot hole repair.

ARTBA is also working with its industry partners in the Construction Industry Safety Coalition to determine the most appropriate next steps.

Please contact ARTBA Vice President of Safety and Environmental Compliance Una Connolly for further information.