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Press Release: Proposed Silica Rule Will Protect Thousands of Nation’s Most Vulnerable Workers

Proposed Silica Rule Will Protect Thousands of Nation’s Most Vulnerable Workers

Decades in the Making, Today’s New Rule Is an Important Step Forward in Worker Safety

The White House’s release today of a long-delayed rule that would shield workers from excessive exposure to silica dust on the job is an important step forward to protect some of our nation’s most vulnerable workers, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said today.

The rule, released today by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is divided into two standards – one for general industry and maritime, and one for construction. The rule lowers the legal limit of silica dust that workers are permitted to breathe to 50 micrograms of respirable silica per cubic meter of air, and for construction workers, suggests specific control methods, such as wet cutting and ventilation in certain situations.

“America’s workers could not wait any longer for the White House to issue a rule to protect them from over-exposure to silica dust,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of National COSH. “When this rule goes into effect, hundreds of thousands of workers will benefit from increased protections from entirely preventable silica-related disease.”

OSHA estimates that about 2.2 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to silica dust – nearly 1.85 million of whom are in the construction industry – and potentially face silica-related disease. In addition to causing silicosis, studies also have found a strong association between silica exposure and lung cancer, kidney disease and autoimmune system disorders.

OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year, once the full effects of the rule are realized.

OSHA has been trying to strengthen rules limiting workers' exposure to silica since the 1980s, but has been stymied by industry opposition. Its current proposal had been mired in bureaucratic limbo since 2000. Most recently, it was stuck at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for more than two and a half years, despite the agency’s deadline to review the rule within 90 days.

Workers can be exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust through cutting, drilling, grinding, or otherwise disturbing material that might contain silica, such as in construction and mining work.

The proposed rule also includes provisions for measuring how much silica workers are exposed to, limiting workers’ access to areas where silica exposures are high, using effective methods for reducing exposures, providing medical exams to workers with high silica exposures, and training for workers about silica-related hazards and how to limit exposure.

“Workers in industries exposed to silica dust include some of the country’s most vulnerable workers,” O’Connor said. “Low-wage immigrant workers and temporary workers are disproportionally represented in the industries with silica exposure – and are the most vulnerable to retaliation should they report potential hazards, injuries or illnesses. This new rule will help to pull them out of the shadows and make them safer at work. Everyone, regardless of immigration status, deserves a safe workplace.”

The hazards of silica exposure are nothing new. In fact, it is one of the oldest known causes of work-related lung disease. The recognition of respiratory problems from breathing in dust dates back to ancient Greeks and Romans. Silica exposure, specifically, has been on the books in the U.S. since the early 1900s. Francis Perkins, who served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Roosevelt administration and after whom the current Labor Department headquarters is named, convened a National Conference to Stop Silicosis in 1938.

“As workers have waited for federal regulatory protection from silica dust, some states – such as New Jersey and California – have passed their own measures, like banning the dry cutting of masonry materials,” O’Connor said. “Now, it’s time for all of America’s workers to receive the same protection. The Obama administration should finalize the rule as quickly as possible.” 

For more information on OSHA’s proposed silica rule, visit: https://www.osha.gov/silica/index.html. 

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The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health is a federation of local and statewide organizations; a private, non-profit coalition of labor unions, health and technical professionals, and others interested in promoting and advocating for worker health and safety.

To learn more about the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, visit: http://www.coshnetwork.org.

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Press Contacts: 

 

Dorry Samuels Levine, (508) 277-7997, dorry.samuels@gmail.com

Tom O’Connor, (919) 428-6915, oconnorta@gmail.com

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