Finding a balance

NRCA continues working with OSHA to improve the agency’s silica exposure regulation

Since the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1971, NRCA has worked to address members’ concerns about regulations implemented that affect the roofing industry. As this important work continues, one current focus for NRCA is improving OSHA’s regulation governing employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica in the workplace.


NRCA’s primary objective for safety policies is to ensure federal laws and regulations enable roofing industry employers to provide a safe work environment for their employees while minimizing regulatory burdens. In an industry as inherently hazardous as roofing, promoting policies that are effective in establishing a safe work environment is a vital function requiring sustained efforts to obtain member input and feedback, adherence to sound risk management practices and continued outreach to OSHA officials as well as members of Congress involved in agency oversight.

After more than a decade in development, OSHA’s final silica regulation was issued in March 2016 and took effect for construction industry employers in September 2017. During the rule’s development, NRCA provided numerous comments and input to agency officials.

Former NRCA CEO Bill Good testified at a hearing in Washington, D.C., April 2, 2014, to comprehensively outline NRCA’s concerns with the proposed rule. At the hearing, Good noted NRCA recognizes the need to take reasonable measures to protect workers exposed to silica but stressed compliance requirements needed to meet drastically reduced exposure levels in the regulation created new, more dangerous fall hazards for roofing workers. Although OSHA addressed some of NRCA’s concerns before issuing its final regulation, more work is necessary to properly balance the potential for exposure to silica with the increased danger of falls created by OSHA’s new requirements.

Ongoing concerns

With the silica regulation now in effect, NRCA continues working to develop information to address member concerns. NRCA is developing strategies for contractors to use to ensure they comply with the regulation, including extensive testing of silica exposure on typical roofing work sites. In addition, NRCA and the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (of which NRCA is a steering committee member) continue working with OSHA to address the regulation’s problematic aspects.

In 2019, OSHA issued a formal request for information soliciting additional stakeholder input based on employers’ experiences implementing the rule. NRCA submitted comments reiterating members’ concerns that engineering controls required to ensure compliance with the regulation resulted in increased fall risks for roofing workers. The most problematic issue is the regulation’s requirement for wet cutting of clay and concrete tile on steep-slope roofs to reduce exposure to silica dust despite the fact that introduction of water and hoses on steep roofs increases the risk of workers falling. NRCA’s comments again urged OSHA to address this critical safety issue for the roofing industry.

Recent efforts

Most recently, NRCA has partnered with the Tile Roofing Industry Alliance to propose a solution for roofing employees installing clay and concrete tile on steep-sloop roofs. During a July 28 conference call with Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, and other top OSHA officials, NRCA and Tile Roofing Industry Alliance representatives outlined how the silica regulation inadvertently creates a serious fall hazard for workers engaged in tile roofing operations.

Handheld power saws are used in clay and concrete tile installations for intermittent cutting performed on roofs to ensure tiles precisely fit in valleys and other locations. OSHA’s regulation requires the saws to have an integrated system that feeds water to the blade as an engineering control to reduce exposure to silica dust. The introduction of water on a roof creates an unacceptable increase in the risk of falls, especially because workers must navigate steep-slope roof systems with heavy saws and attached hoses. NRCA and Tile Roofing Industry Alliance staff also explained cutting tile on the ground is not a viable solution because doing so also creates a greater fall hazard by increasing the number of trips workers have to make up and down ladders to complete the required tasks.

NRCA and Tile Roofing Industry Alliance staff noted their associations’ ongoing commitment to protecting roofing workers from falls and silica exposure while offering a solution to address each problem. Specifically, the associations recommended OSHA amend the regulation to allow workers cutting tile on roofs to forego wet cutting if they use respiratory protection with a minimum assigned protection factor of 25 during cutting activities. This solution will fully protect workers from silica exposure while eliminating the increased fall hazards resulting from the engineering controls required by the regulation.

In concluding the call, Sweatt indicated the solution proposed is reasonable and OSHA will carefully review it as the agency considers making modifications to the regulation. NRCA and Tile Roofing Industry Alliance representatives left the call cautiously optimistic OSHA will adopt the proposed solution though it could take months for anything to happen.

Smart safety

NRCA will continue working with OSHA regarding the silica regulation and other regulatory matters to ensure members’ concerns are fully addressed. The goal of ensuring safety policy while reducing burdens on employers without compromising employee safety and roof system application is based on sound risk management principles and will continue to guide NRCA during its ongoing dialogue with OSHA.

Harry Dietz is an NRCA director of enterprise risk management, and Duane Musser is NRCA’s vice president of government relations in Washington, D.C.

This column is part of Rules + Regs. Click here to read additional stories from this section.



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