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Small Business Owners Describe New Silica Standards as Unworkable

The Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), held a hearing today to review recent changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) silica standards and the potential impact they will have on the nation’s workplaces.

“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,” Rep. Walberg said. “The question before the committee … 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?”

In March 2016, OSHA issued a final regulation lowering the permissible exposure limits to silica. There are a number of concerns with the rule, including its feasibility, the effect on small businesses, and whether it can be properly enforced.

“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,” Rep. Walberg said. “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 … Instead of enforcing the rules already on the books, the department spent significant time and resources crafting an entirely new regulatory regime.”

Witnesses testified about how the recent changes to the silica standards will be unworkable in practice.

“Sensible regulations play a vital role in ensuring their health and safety. But those rules must be practical and feasible, economically and technically, to be truly effective,” Ed Brady, a second-generation home builder from Illinois, said. “OSHA’s final silica rule demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding for how the construction industry—and in particular residential construction—operates.”

Brady went on to explain the negative impact this rule would have on smaller home builders and how impractical—and in some cases impossible—it will be for them to comply. “OSHA developed a rule designed for workers who perform the same tasks on the same sites every day,” he said. “That is not the pattern on jobsites where workers perform many and varied tasks in a variety of different environments.”

Janis Herschkowitz, who owns a small, second-generation metalcasting company in Pennsylvania, echoed these concerns, saying the rule “presents enormous feasibility challenges.” Herschkowitz went on to say, “Foundries will have to exhaust all feasible engineering and work practice controls to meet the new reduced [limits]. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution that is guaranteed to work. Some foundries may spend millions of dollars retrofitting and … rebuilding in order to implement the various types of engineering controls—essentially trial and error—while attempting to comply with the new standard.”

This small business owner also described how the lack of flexibility could negatively impact her employees. “The worst case scenario with OSHA’s rule is that if we are unable to meet the requirements, we could be forced to close our doors,” she said. “This would shut down our other facilities as well, as they are dependent on upgrading and machining the casting supplied by our foundry. Simply put, over 150 highly skilled co-workers would lose their jobs, which would also have a devastating effect on our local economy, and our nation’s military who would lose a critical supplier.”

Rep. Walberg emphasized, in closing, the need for worker safety policies that lead to results and foster an environment for job creation.

“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,” he said. “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.”

 

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