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NAHB Urges Congress to Prevent New Silica Rules from Taking Effect

WASHINGTON, D.C. – April 21, 2016 – (RealEstateRama) — The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) today urged Congress to take action to keep the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) new silica standards from taking effect.

Testifying before the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, NAHB Chairman Ed Brady, a home builder and developer from Bloomington, Ill., said that “our members are deeply committed to taking meaningful action to provide a safe work and construction environment, including reducing exposure to silica. However, we believe the new rule will not only fail to achieve these aims, but it will also do great harm to businesses, consumers and the economy.”

Brady, who also appeared before the House panel as a representative of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, a group of 25 trade associations representing members from all facets of the construction industry, called the final regulation:

Technologically impracticable. In order to meet the new standards, the rule would require construction firms to develop and install engineering and work practice controls to mitigate or remove silica dust that are beyond current technology.

Economically infeasible. OSHA’s Preliminary Economic Analysis failed to recognize the distinction between new construction and remodeling, or the relationship between a general contractor and its subcontractors. The agency’s out-of-date economic data drastically underestimates the economic costs to the construction industry, which could run $4.9 billion per year, an amount nearly eight times larger than OSHA’s estimates.

The cost of this most significant health and safety rule ever issued for the construction sector will be passed to the consumer in the form of higher prices. As the cost of housing increases and the access to credit remains tight, home buyers and renters will have fewer safe, decent and affordable housing options.

Unworkable in terms of requiring medical surveillance of construction industry workers. The rule offers no guidance to determine if employees may reasonably be expected to be exposed to silica dust. In the absence of such guidance, the employer’s only option is to perform health screening at a cost of $377.77 per employee as estimated by OSHA. Virtually all of the nation’s 3.2 million construction workers will cut and drill and grind during the course of their work without knowing the silica content of the material they are working on. If each construction employee required only one health screening per year at a cost of $377.77, the total tally would be roughly $1.2 billion.

The wrong solution to make the workplace safer. Though the intent of the rule is to protect workers from toxic dust particles, the final provisions display a fundamental misunderstanding of the real world of construction. This one-size-fits-all rule places restrictions on certain construction site work practices, which contradict existing safety procedures.

“We strongly urge OSHA to re-examine and reassess how its final rule will negatively harm the construction industry, job growth, consumers and the economy while doing little to improve the health and safety of industry workers,” said Brady. “Given that it is unlikely the agency will change course, Congress must take the lead and act swiftly to craft legislation that will keep this fundamentally flawed rule from taking effect.”

Elizabeth Thompson