Workplace health and safety in the fabrication industry has become a growing concern over the past couple of years. You have surely heard about OSHA's plans to lower the acceptable exposure limit of silica dust for workers. We have watched this story closely as it has unfolded, and have covered it from the very beginning, when federal OSHA first released a formal notice about the proposed rule change.
The Marble Institute of America (MIA), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC), as well as individual fabricators and many others made their voices heard during the open debate and public commentary regarding the rule change. The MIA and CISC believe that the industry is capable of regulating itself, citing statistics that show the mortality rate from silicosis dropped by more than 90 percent from 1968 to 2010.
The cost that fabricators will have to pay to come into compliance is the primary concern about the rule change. OSHA estimates the annual cost across all businesses in all of the affected industries at $511.2 million, but the CISC says in a letter addressed to David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor, that the cost will be 20 percent higher than the original independent estimate of $3.9 billion at $4.9 billion per year.
The $3.9 billion is said to reflect the direct cost of compliance - including new equipment, monitoring equipment, respirators and labor - while an additional $1.05 billion will be for indirect costs, such as the increased prices of construction materials.
Even though the period for open debate has ended, the CISC continues to challenge the rule change, stating that it is unnecessary, technologically and economically infeasible. However, despite the cost, technology and practices have already allowed businesses in Europe to meet these higher silica standards. In addition, cases of silicosis directly related to countertop fabrication have begun appearing in the United States for the first time.
After speaking with compliance officers and officials, it seems that the OSHA administration is acting purely out of compassion and dedication to the health and safety of American workers. So, why such a discrepancy between OSHA's estimated costs and those by the CISC? The cost of the increased regulation, has a direct influence on the willingness for compliance. After all, no company wants their seasoned workers to suffer and die from a horrible illness, nor do they want to shutter their businesses because they are losing money on unnecessary regulations.
No matter what happens with the rule for silica dust exposure, the MIA has declared that it will continue to work closely with OSHA and ask all of its members to make the safety and health of their workers a top priority. The MIA even released an informational video on the issue called Silicosis: Incurable, but Preventable.
Regardless of who is right in this matter, we can only agree that workplace health and safety should be a top priority for all businesses. Although ensuring health and safety in the workplace carries a few upfront and ongoing costs, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that companies end up saving from $3 to $6 in lost labor, training, down time, insurance premiums and other expenses for every dollar spent on workplace safety.
How do you budget for the safety of your workers? Do you consider the cost of workers' comp claims? What do you expect from OSHA's proposed rule change? How are the costs going to affect your business? We want to hear from you!
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