Construction industry groups recently filed a lawsuit in federal court to block new safety standards related to silica dust exposure. The new standards require employers to do more to protect their workers from exposure hazards, and represent the first update to OSHA’s silica dust exposure standards in nearly 50 years.
Exposure to crystalline silica – the fine dust that workers breathe when they work with materials such as concrete and stone – is known to cause a number of serious and sometimes fatal illnesses, including
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Kidney diseases
- Lung cancer
In short, the lower the exposure of construction workers to silica dust, the lower the risk of these diseases. So why are construction companies so opposed to taking more measures to protect their employees?
The answer is simple: money.
Construction companies oppose costs of new silica dust standards
Although OSHA has estimated that the cost of complying with the new standards would be approximately $659 million per year, some analysts point out that this cost could actually be as high as $4.9 billion. This may seem like a large sum, but remember that the construction industry generates more than $1.7 billion annually. Keep in mind, too, that it is the health of construction workers, and in many cases, their lives, that are at risk. In fact, because of the benefits to be gained from limiting construction worker exposure, OSHA says that the standards will actually provide a total net economic benefit of $7.7 billion annually.
Despite the obvious benefits, many construction companies continue to oppose the new rules and have decided to fight them in court. They argue that compliance is not economically viable; or in essence, that the benefits to workers are not worth it.
Requirements of the new standards
About two million construction workers in New York City and across the country are exposed to silica dust on the job. Although the equipment needed to reduce workers’ exposure to silica dust is widely available to construction companies, many refuse to comply with OSHA requirements to protect their employees. The new OSHA silica dust standards require employers to take such actions as
- Reduce exposure to silica dust to half the current permitted level
- Use water controls, ventilation or other measures to limit worker exposure to silica dust
- Provide protection for workers’ airways when other controls are not feasible
- Train workers who are exposed to silica dust and limit access to high exposure areas
- Provide medical screening for workers with high exposure
The new standards for the construction industry are in force from 23 June 2016. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until the construction industry’s battle in court is over before we know for sure whether workers will be able to benefit from the new protection measures.
Have you been exposed to silica dust? Call Gorayeb & Associates today
If you or someone you know has been injured on a construction site call Gorayeb & Associates at 646-906-9897 for a free consultation.