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Workers Can’t Afford to Wait for Silica Standard to Be Released From Bureaucratic Logjam

Thursday, February 14, 2013
Press Contacts: 

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

Workers Can’t Afford to Wait for Silica Standard to Be Released From Bureaucratic Logjam

After Two Years of Delay at White House, Federal Standard Must Be Enacted

Washington, D.C. – In the two years that a proposed rule to protect workers from exposure to dangerous levels of silica dust on the job has been held up by the White House, more than 100 workers have died and thousands have been sickened by preventable exposure to silica dust, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health said today.

For the past two years, the proposed Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica rule has been stuck at the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which was supposed to review the standard within 90 days. It has been 730.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (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 has been mired in bureaucratic limbo since 2000.

“American workers cannot afford to wait for the federal government to enact this commonsense rule,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “Each day that the federal government stalls, workers are needlessly exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust, which is one of the oldest known causes of work-related lung disease.”

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

Studies have found a strong association between silica exposure and lung cancer, kidney disease and autoimmune system disorders. Yet, OSHA does not have a comprehensive, protective standard on the books to address it. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that 1.7 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to silica dust. Worse, those are just the cases we know about; many cases of silicosis go unreported.

OSHA’s proposed rule would lower the legal limit of silica dust that workers are permitted to breathe and would require specific control methods, such as wet cutting and ventilation in certain situations. These proposed control measures have been carefully designed to be simple and low-cost. 

Some states, such as New Jersey and California, have implemented safeguards, like banning dry cutting of masonry materials.

“America’s workers can’t wait any longer for OIRA to move on this,” O’Connor said. “It’s time for a national standard. The Obama administration must push it through the bureaucratic logjam.”

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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.