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A roundup of stories about the newly released silica rule

At long last, the U.S. Department of Labor has released its proposed silica rule, which would protect workers from excessive exposure to silica dust on the job. (Were you on vacation when it happened, too? Catch up with our press release.)

While we wait for the rule to be finalized – and really, haven’t we done enough waiting with this rule?! – here is a round-up of our favorite news stories about the rule’s release.

From OSHA

Protecting workers under the proposed rule is not difficult or expensive. The rule suggests using very commonsense control measures to protect workers’ lives and lungs − things like wetting down materials to keep dust out of the air or using a simple vacuum to collect dust. Tools that use these methods are readily available; consumers can even find them at local big box retailers. The rule, which includes separate standards for general industry and maritime employment and for construction, would also give employers flexibility to tailor the best solution for their businesses.

From the New York Times

Dr. Michaels said the rules — issued after two and a half years of delay — would affect 534,000 businesses, 90 percent of them in construction. He said it would cost industry $640 million to comply with the new rules, averaging $1,242 a company — but he estimated that the total benefits would exceed $4 billion.

Dr. Michaels said, “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.”

From Occupational Health and Safety

The current permissible exposure limit was set in 1971. This [new] lower PEL would apply to construction and general industry, including hydraulic fracturing operations at gas drilling sites.

Michaels said the agency estimates the lower PEL would prevent about 700 deaths per year from illnesses such as silicosis, COPD, and lung cancer that can be caused by breathing crystalline silica. "This proposed rule will bring worker protection into the 21st century," Michaels said.

From the Pump Handle

The the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finally published a proposed rule to protect workers who are exposed to respirable crystalline silica. It is a well written proposal and, if adopted, will go a long way to prevent construction, foundry and other exposed workers from developing silicosis, lung cancer and other adverse health effects. Sadly, this vitally important proposal languished at the OIRA for more 906 days. That’s ten times the time period prescribed in Executive Order 12866 which covers the centralized review of agencies’ regulatory actions.

I’ve previously attempted to force OMB/OIRA to follow the disclosure requirements in Executive Order 12866. Despite its clear language about making all documents exchanged between OIRA and the agency available to the public, I had to turn to filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to try to compel disclosure of the documents. That did little good.

I hope a new day has dawned at OIRA under Howard Shelanski’s watch. Maybe his staff is just a little slow posting on a website their 900 days of communications with OSHA on the agency’s silica proposal.

Seeing whether OIRA complies with the Executive Order 12866, will be a good test of the new regulatory czar’s true commitment to transparency.

And from our allies:

The American Public Health Association:

“The public comment period and hearings will allow health experts, affected workers and businesses to share information and expertise with OSHA about silica exposure and controls,” noted Linda Delp, PhD, MPH, chair of APHA’s Occupational Health and Safety Section. “We welcome the opportunity to participate in the rulemaking process to bring health protections to silica-exposed workers.”

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards

“This is a strong rule that will protect workers from unnecessary disease and death,” said Peg Seminario, director of Safety and Health for the AFL-CIO. “It is now crucial that OSHA and the Obama administration move forward as quickly as possible to finalize the rule while thwarting any industry attacks that may be launched against the improved standards.”

“The proposed rule represents a major improvement in protections for workers – especially those at risk of respiratory diseases,” said Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government and CSS co-chair. “It is essential for workers, their families and the public to weigh in and let the administration know we want this rule finalized.”

The Center for Progressive Reform

The publication of the proposal is an important step towards protecting millions of Americans who are exposed to the deadly dust in their workplaces.

But this is no time for the agency to rest on its laurels. As GAO noted in a recent report, OSHA proposals published in the 2000s took an average of three years to reach the “final rule” stage. If it takes that long to publish the final silica rule, it will be in jeopardy of falling prey to election-year politics. The Obama administration’s regulatory agencies published fewer final rules in 2012 than the agencies published in any of the prior 15 years. (Thanks to Curtis Copeland for this analysis.) It is incumbent upon Secretary Perez, Assistant Secretary Michaels, and their entire team to keep this rule moving along expeditiously. That means no extensions of the comment periods, efficient management of the rulemaking hearings, and a hardline stance against the White House’s regulatory review team, which has a history of holding up this rule.

The National Council of La Raza

For years, NCLR has advocated for policies to improve job quality in low-wage, high-risk industries where Latinos are overrepresented. NCLR supports the proposed updated silica standards as necessary to improving worker health and safety in key industries like construction, where Latinos represent nearly one in four workers.

The United Steelworkers

The USW has investigated the dangers of silica exposure for many years and knows that exposure to it can be controlled, creating safer workplaces. “The best employers are already doing what OSHA has proposed,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “But everyone deserves protection from deadly workplace diseases.”

 

We can say with confidence that we, along with our allies, will pay careful attention to the progress of the proposed silica rule. We will keep you posted with any developments or analysis we can provide along the way.

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