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Walberg Statement: Hearing on “Reviewing Recent Changes to OSHA’s Silica Standards”

We’re here today because we all agree that hardworking men and women should be able to earn a paycheck without risking a serious injury or being exposed to a deadly disease. And every family deserves the peace of mind that their loved ones are safe on the job.

We also agree that federal policies play a role in meeting that shared goal. This hearing is timely, because next week marks 45 years that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has helped keep America’s workers safe. As part of this committee’s oversight efforts, we were pleased to have Assistant Secretary Michaels join us last October to discuss what more can be done to promote safe and healthy working conditions.

The question before the committee then and today is whether the workplace rules and regulations coming out of Washington serve the best interests of employees and their employers. Are they practical, responsible, and fair? Are they created with transparency and enforced effectively?

These are important questions, because the strongest health and safety rules will do little to protect America’s workers if the rules are not followed and enforced—or if they’re too confusing and complex to even implement in the first place. I hope we can have a thoughtful discussion today that addresses these points, particularly as they relate to OSHA’s new silica standard.

In March, OSHA issued a final rule that significantly reduces the permissible exposure limit to crystalline silica. Silica is the second most common element found in the Earth’s crust, and a key component of manufactured products and construction materials. But exposure to high concentrations of silica dust can lead to a dangerous, debilitating—and even life-threatening—disease. We have witnessed important progress in recent years, but we know there’s more that can be done to keep workers out of harm’s way.

That is why this committee has pressed OSHA to use the tools at its disposal to enforce existing standards. Unfortunately, the agency has failed to do so.

OSHA itself admits that 30 percent of tested jobsites have not complied with the existing exposure limit for silica. This is an alarmingly high figure. But instead of enforcing the rules already on the books, the department spent significant time and resources crafting an entirely new regulatory regime.

The department’s first priority should have been enforcing existing standards. If OSHA is unable—or unwilling—to enforce the current limit for silica exposure, why should we expect the results under these new standards to be any different?

Related to enforcement, some have raised concerns about whether the new standards can be responsibly enforced. It has been suggested that silica cannot be accurately measured at the reduced limit prescribed in the new rule, because many labs don’t have the technology necessary to provide reliable results. Will employers—acting in good faith and trying to do the right thing—be held accountable for an enforcement regime that isn’t feasible or practical?

These are important questions about enforcement, but there are also serious questions concerning implementation. Can these new rules be effectively implemented on the ground and under the timeframe prescribed by OSHA? Employers may lack the time and resources necessary to adjust their workplaces to the requirements of the new rule. Others may find new controls simply unworkable.

This is especially true for small businesses. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, this rule will cost workplaces more than $7 billion each year. These costs will be borne by consumers and taxpayers in the form of higher prices for homes, bridges, and roads. And these costs will be borne by workers in the form of fewer jobs. These are significant consequences for a rule that may do little to enhance worker health and safety.

We are fortunate to have a second-generation home builder and owner of a small family business with us who can speak more to this today. They will also speak to the fear of unintended safety consequences stemming from these new rules. In trying to address significant health and safety concerns, we must ensure federal policies do not in any way create new hazards in America’s workplaces.

Hundreds of thousands of workplaces nationwide will be impacted by these new rules. We owe it to our nation’s job creators to provide the clarity and certainty they need to expand, hire, and succeed. And, just as importantly, we owe it to workers and their families to promote smart, responsible regulatory policies that are implemented and enforced in a way that serves their best interests. The workers with us today—and those working on countless jobsites across the country—deserve more than our good intentions, they deserve good policies that lead to good results.

I know that we can work together to protect the health and well-being of the hardworking men and women of this country. I look forward to today’s discussion, and will now yield to Ranking Member Wilson for her opening remarks.

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