Federal agencies Silica

Perez defends upcoming silica rule, as GOP members raise concerns

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez

Washington – Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez defended OSHA’s forthcoming silica standard to members of the House during a March 17 hearing convened by the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

The hearing covered several aspects of the Department of Labor’s proposed budget, including increased funding for new regulations and enforcement activities.

In September 2013, OSHA published a proposed rule on silica that would require employers to implement engineering and work practice controls to attain a stronger permissible exposure limit.

During the hearing, Republicans questioned the feasibility and necessity of the proposed rule. The industry compliance rate for the current standard is 70 percent, according to Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), who asked why OSHA is moving forward with a new rule instead of focusing on improving compliance rates.

“We’re trying to save lives here, and exposure to silica kills,” Perez said, adding that he disagreed with Dent’s claims that the rule will be technologically infeasible.

Another committee member, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), questioned why the rule does not permit personal air-filtered helmets as the primary dust control measure, considering that such respirators “work kind of great.”

Perez did not directly answer the question, but pledged to have OSHA staff meet to discuss the topic.

During the hearing, the secretary also talked about the balance between compliance assistance and enforcement, as well as an Executive Order issued in July barring labor violators from winning federal contracts.