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National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) Urges OSHA to Withdraw Crystalline Silica Proposal

Feb 11, 2014

NECA + CISC Requests Silica Rule Revisions: Should be Fair, Cost Effective & Workable

NECA agrees that exposure to respirable crystalline silica can be a serious health hazard. We do NOT agree that OSHA’s proposal to cut the permissible exposure level (PEL) on jobsites in half is practical, cost effective or workable.

In response to the agency’s call for written comments on the proposed rule, NECA has asked OSHA to revisit this proposal and to perform all the necessary research to determine if it’s really needed. We’re also working with the other organizations in the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC) to encourage OSHA to rethink the proposal.

Read NECA's Comments on the Proposed Silica Rule

Training, Record-keeping, Monitoring, Medical Exams

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica published in the Federal Register on September 12, 2013, takes up several hundred pages. Its primary intent is to reduce exposure to airborne silica in the workplace.

The current PEL for general industry is approximately 100 μg/m3 (micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air), and the PEL is 250 μg/m3 for the construction industry. The proposed rule would change the PEL to 50 μg/m3 for both industries.

In order to comply with the new PEL, employers would be required to perform air sampling for silica exposures for workers who may be exposed to an action level of 25 μg/m3 or more averaged over an eight-hour day. (This can be a difficult metric to measure for employers such as line contractors who may have employees cut a sidewalk or a concrete pole once a month.)

Medical exams would have to be performed every three years for workers exposed above the PEL for 30 or more days per year. The required exams could include chest X-rays, lung function and latent tuberculosis infection tests, and any other tests that the medical professional thinks is necessary.

Of course, employers would also be required to train their employees on working safely during operations that result in respirable crystalline silica exposure. Records that must be maintained would include air monitoring data, objective data and medical surveillance documents.

The proposal also suggests using engineering controls such as wetting the work area to prevent the silica from becoming airborne “unless the employer can demonstrate that such controls are not feasible.” It does not give much guidance on what is considered “not feasible” and so has been criticized for offering one-size-fits-all recommendations that haven’t been thought out nor tested for diverse construction operations.

Transient Labor Pool Complicates Compliance

NECA’s testimony points out that the construction industry depends on a temporary or transient labor pool, and it is those workers that have intermittent exposure to respirable silica. Obviously, the transient nature of the workforce complicates making medical evaluations with pre- and post-employment screenings.

What’s worse, as we told OSHA, “knowing that most construction employers lack both the expertise and resources to measure each intermittent exposure that occurs during the course of a normal workday, this new rule could prove burdensome enough to financially cripple all businesses found in the construction sector. Monitoring and physical evaluations alone could cause business to lose their competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

“Also, the fact that the illnesses associated with silica may take years to develop creates the possibility that most of today’s workforce may mistakenly blame current employers for exposures that could have been pre-existing.”

NECA’s letter to OSHA lists some of the electrical tasks that could be affected by the proposed rule. “All these tasks are usually performed on an intermittent basis. Employee exposure is minimal and with the right training, the employee is qualified to protect himself and those around him.  Practical abatement methods consistent with current technologies are the reason the number of cases of silica related illness have declined over the years. We believe this is another example of how employers have already addressed the concerns proposed by this rule.”

In fact, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show a greater than 90 percent reduction in the silicosis mortality rate from 1968 to 2010. It is doubtful that a further reduction of the allowable exposure limits will impact those numbers.

Wesley Wheeler, NECA Director of Safety said “NECA has been monitoring this proposed rule since it was first introduced and has been working on providing meaningful comments directly to OSHA to ensure our member’s concerns are heard. NECA is also working with other trade organizations in the CISC to help OSHA develop a rule that would be practical and won’t burden contractors in the construction industry.”

Read NECA's Silica Rule Comments to OSHA


NECA is the voice of the $130 billion electrical construction industry that brings power, light, and communication technology to buildings and communities across the U.S. NECA contractors help customers achieve their goals for energy conservation, efficiency and renewable power. NECA’s national office and 119 local chapters advance the industry through advocacy, education, research and standards development. For more information, visit www.necanet.org.

About the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC)

The Construction Industry Safety Coalition is a group of several construction trade associations, including the NECA, developed in response to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed rule on silica for the construction industry.