Mechanical Contractors Association of America, and the Associated Builders and Contractors are among the members of a coalition formed to fight a proposed OSHA rule on crystalline silica exposure.

In an Aug. 23 post on its website, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggested reducing the permissible exposure limit for breathable silica along with new recordkeeping and training requirements to work with the substance.

“Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential," said Dr. David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor. "Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis-an incurable and progressive disease-as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease. We're looking forward to public comment on the proposal."

Crystalline silica is widely used in construction. As quartz, it is often found in bricks, concrete, sand and mortar. Breathing in the substance can lead to lung diseases, including cancer, OSHA said. The administration estimates the new regulations would save 700 lives and prevent 1,600 cases of silica-related sickness each year.

The Construction Industry Safety Coalition, whose members also include the National Roofing Contractors Association, disagrees. It says that the proposal is ill-advised, expensive and will not increase worker safety.

“Several provisions in the proposed rule appear unnecessary for worker protection, and most likely will not be feasible for many construction firms,” said Tom Skaggs, chairman of MCAA’s Safety and Health Committee, and vice president of safety for the Murphy Co. in St. Louis. “It is my hope that, by working with OSHA on the solution, MCAA and the coalition will be able to develop a practical rule for worker protection.”

Officials with the Associated Builders and Contractors said compliance with the rule could cost businesses $1 billion to $2 billion a year.

“OSHA still has not explained how a lowered PEL will be effective at reducing the number of silica-related illnesses, particularly when the agency has admitted its failure to properly enforce the existing standard,” said ABC Vice President of Government Affairs Geoff Burr. “The agency clearly missed an opportunity to take a cost-effective approach while still improving compliance and worker safety.”

The coalition said it hopes to work with the administration on a rule that protects workers without burdening the construction industry.