More than ever, we are hearing about the concerns regarding silica dust in the shop, and how OSHA is working relentlessly to enforce standards to regulate the amount produced during the fabrication process. As with everything, there are two sides to each story. While OSHA believes it is doing all of this for the safety and overall wellness of fabricators, many in the stone industry feel the new standards they want to put in place are too stringent.

In this issue of Stone World, you will find an in-depth article on this subject — beginning on 58. The article starts out by defining silicosis — an irreversible, but preventable disease, which has long been associated with work in industry occupations using quartz-containing materials, such as fabrication shops.

While it is obvious that the key to preventing the disease is stopping workers from inhaling the silica dust generated when these materials are cut, drilled, ground or polished, the question remains how much is a safe amount to have in the air? With the new regulation, OSHA is proposing to change the allowable exposure limit by one-half. Several construction-related trade associations have voiced strong opposition to the proposed silica rule. Many in the industry believe that OSHA has underestimated the actual cost to implement it.

Because this is such a serious issue, the Marble Institute of America (MIA) joined the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC), which is comprised of 25 trade associations — including the Natural Stone Council and Building Stone Institute — to contribute feedback of the process and hopefully influence the result.

On the MIA’s website, it cites, “The CISC has just submitted a new report to OSHA on the ‘Costs to the Construction Industry and Jobs Impacts from OSHA’s Proposed Occupational Exposure Standards for Crystalline Silica.’ In this report, the CISC estimates that OSHA’s proposed silica standard will now cost the industry more than $4.9 billion per year, increasing our original estimate by approximately 20% since our post-hearing economic analysis was submitted.”

Additionally, the CISC estimates that the proposed regulation would reduce the number of jobs in the U.S. economy by more than 52,700 yearly. On March 11, 2015 the CISC submitted a request for a 60-day extension of time for submitting written comments in response to the agency’s request for information. OSHA issued a 180-day extension of the comment period on March 25th based on the CISC and other organizations written requests. Comments are now due October 9, 2015.

The MIA is urging all members to write to their two U.S. Senators and designated House of Representatives member about this matter. “While safety is paramount to each of us, the assumptions that were made by OSHA in developing this rule are completely off base,” states the MIA. “We believe the current silica rule has done a fantastic job of reducing related illnesses so much so that it is still declining every year and current projections.”

Stone industry members may feel that OSHA is being too tough, but other government agencies such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are looking to find solutions and work together with industry partners. Currently, engineers at NIOSH are conducting research to provide practical recommendations for effective dust controls that will consistently reduce workers’ exposures to crystalline silica below the NIOSH REL and OSHA’s proposed PEL.

As I have said, I think we can agree everyone wants to provide a safe silicosis-free work environment for their employees. It’s just a matter of what is the best way to go about doing this. With an issue such as this, education is key. The MIA offers several training documents and videos available online for fabricators to use to educate their staff about silicosis exposure and “best practices” to limit exposure. Also, we at Stone World will continue to report on new developments on this topic. Stay tuned.