Under the current OSHA silica rule employers are not even required to test the dust exposure levels in their workplaces. The major strength of the new OSHA proposed rule is that, for the first time, employers will be required to regularly test and control the air their workers breathe, provide medical surveillance for employees, and keep detailed records of their work environments. These “ancillary” provisions will ensure that employers stay below the 100 microgram limit and thus protect workers and eliminate the scourge of silicosis.
OSHA is relying on theoretical studies and models to support its position that the permissible exposure limit must be cut in half to provide a safe work environment. The sand companies are relying on more than 30 years of actual workplace experience in successfully protecting workers to support their position that the current permissible exposure limit can be protective as long as employers are required to implement the reasonable controls, dust monitoring and medical surveillance necessary to ensure they stay in compliance.
Members of Congress are right to worry that unnecessarily restrictive government regulation can be harmful and sometimes undermine the wrong that government is trying to right.
The sand companies have a pragmatic, effective and long-tested model for protecting American workers. Members of Congress should encourage OSHA to adopt its proposed worker protection provisions, but leave the exposure limit at 100 micrograms. A drastic reduction is not necessary to protect workers and it will unnecessarily cost jobs and hurt the national economy.
Mark Ellis is president of the National Industrial Sand Association.