The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Thursday that it will delay enforcement of its silica rule for the construction industry for 90 days, from the initial date of June 23 to the new deadline of Sept. 23.
The agency said it granted the delay in order to secure additional guidance for the rule "due to the unique nature of the requirements in the construction standard," according to its announcement.
- Despite the three-month stay, OSHA said it expects construction employers to continue taking steps to ensure they are compliant by the new enforcement date, when they must reduce workers' allowed exposure to silica dust from the current limit of 250 micrograms per cubic meter over an eight-hour period to 50 micrograms.
OSHA issued its final silica rule in March 2016, significantly reducing permitted exposure to crystalline silica with the aim of decreasing cases of silicosis in workers. OSHA has said the new rule will save the lives of more than 560 construction workers and prevent approximately 1,080 cases of silicosis among the industry's workforce.
The new rule also mandated that companies record instances of worker exposure to silica and provide medical exams every three years for workers exposed to the substance for long enough periods to necessitate the use of a protective respirator for 30 days or more a year.
Construction employer groups have been some of the biggest opponents of the new rule since it was proposed in 2013 — the first change in silica exposure standards since 1970. Many have said OSHA should have ramped up enforcement of the rule already in place, rather than instituting the new regulation. Builders and trade groups across several sectors of the industry partnered to oppose the new rule and formed the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC), which includes the Associated General Contractors of America, the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Home Builders.
In March 2015, the CISC sent a report to OSHA that claimed the agency’s proposed requirements for lowering the exposure to silica on job sites could cost the industry billions of dollars more than the government estimated. The group also predicted that the proposed rule — which was somewhat altered before the final ruling — would lead to the loss of almost 33,000 jobs among contractors, equipment suppliers, and building products manufacturers as a result of the implementation costs.
In response to OSHA's latest announcement, the CISC said in a statement that while it "appreciates the 90-day delay in enforcement, the CISC remains concerned about the overall feasibility of the standard in construction and has requested that the Agency delay enforcement for a year."
Proponents of the new rule — especially those representing worker interests — blasted OSHA's move Thursday. "The longer the Trump administration delays, the more workers will suffer and die. This action alone will lead to an additional 160 worker deaths," the AFL-CIO said in a statement.
The delay wasn't a complete surprise, as President Donald Trump has promised to take a different approach to regulations than his predecessor — and, in multiple cases, has followed through. Since he took office, Trump has signed legislation repealing the so-called "blacklisting" rule and an OSHA recordkeeping violation regulation known as the Volks rule. Many expected the silica rule to be a key target on the administration's radar.