OSHA’s Silica Rule – The Price We’ll Pay is An Increase in Accidents and Injuries

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The following is a response from Bill Good, NRCA CEO to a guest column in the Buffalo Law Journal, written by Richard Williamson, secretary-treasurer of Local 3, Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers on NRCA’s stance on OSHA’s rule regulating worker exposure to crystalline silica.

On Oct. 12, Richard Williamson, secretary-treasurer of Local 3, Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers, took rather strong exception to my guest column, “Here We Go Again:  OSHA and the New Silica Rule,” which appeared in the Buffalo Law Journal Sept. 8.  Unfortunately, Williamson missed my point, which was how the new rule, through unintended consequences, will adversely affect worker health and safety.

When OSHA issues new rules, like the silica rule, that are complicated, expensive, unworkable and difficult to enforce, two things happen:

  • New safety hazards emerge that are worse than the risks the rule is trying to address. In the case of the silica rule, as it applies to roofers, tripping, slipping and falling risks greatly increase.
  • The underground economy expands, as unprofessional contractors simply choose to ignore the rule just as they ignore other OSHA rules. It expands because the cost differential increases with contractors who make a good faith effort to comply with the rule. And as the underground economy expands, more workers are put at risk for all of the other hazards to which they are exposed.

Williamson’s suggestion that I am not concerned with worker safety is a default argument made any time someone objects to new OSHA regulations.  As Williamson notes in his column, NRCA, my employer, did object to OSHA’s most recent fall-protection regulations. However, NRCA objected not because it is opposed to preventing falls, but rather because it believes the roofing industry knows how to prevent falls better than OSHA does. And as a matter of fact, since OSHA’s new fall-protection rules were imposed, falls in roofing have increased.

In addition, Williamson takes exception to my assertion that the new silica rule is “complicated and expensive.” The rule is more than 1,700 pages long; complying with it involves either following OSHA’s “Table 1” requirements or proceeding into a laundry list of other compliance measures. For any contractor—but especially for a small contractor already trying to address fall protection, lead abatement, asbestos, confined space and a host of other rules—that is complicated.

NRCA knows the cost to conduct initial air monitoring for a typical roofing crew can cost between $3,000 and $5,000. This does not include the necessary training, medical surveillance and record keeping requirements that come with the new rule. Williamson might be surprised by the much larger price tag the next time he needs to have the roof on his home replaced.

Williamson also has done some research on my background. I did work on roofs before OSHA was established.  I never witnessed a serious accident or injury, but I did learn a lot about the importance of creating a culture of safety within a roofing company.  I have spent my entire career preaching about the importance of safety in the roofing industry, and I’d invite Williamson to take the time to see all the safety training programs NRCA has developed.

Although I agree with Williamson that we must work together to find the best solutions to prevent accidents, injuries and illnesses in our respective industries, we must also acknowledge OSHA doesn’t always know best and OSHA mandates often have unintended consequences.  The roofing industry is paying the price for some of those unintended consequences, and I’m deeply concerned we will once again pay the price for them by trying to comply with the new silica rule. The price we’ll pay is not the cost of compliance; it is an increase in accidents and injuries.

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One thought on “OSHA’s Silica Rule – The Price We’ll Pay is An Increase in Accidents and Injuries

  1. waterways16 says:

    Mr. Good, I am grateful for people like you who think deeply about the law of unintended consequences and OSHA’s propensity to ignore that law. Additionally, the perspective of a young roofer looking to get a business running leaves me to assert that OSHA also looks at each standard and considers it a standalone that doesn’t add any considerable expense to a company. Their standards are not standalone’s and the mountain of regulatory compliance I am staring at gives me pause.

    Like

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