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New findings show us how to reduce silica exposure as we wait for White House to act

As we wait for the Obama administration to issue a standard to protect American workers from exposure to dangerous levels of silica dust on the job (click here to sign a petition to move the proposed rule out of the Office of Management and Budget), the folks at the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) have some new information that will help in the meantime.

Drs. Susan Shepherd and Susan Woskie of the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, with assistance from the New England Laborers Training Center and CPWR, performed an exhaustive series of tests of airborne silica exposures encountered by workers cutting reinforced concrete pipe with gas-powered portable concrete saws. Their findings are included in the latest Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

They found that using a hose or sprayer reduced airborne crystalline silica concentrations by 85% over dry cutting. That’s no small matter – for a laborer employed by a contractor specializing in “wet” utilities, “wet cutting” could be the difference between a long and healthy retirement and one plagued by silicosis and COPD.  

Another finding hammers the point home:

“Concrete cutting is often a short period task and is typically assumed to be less than the PEL (OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit),” Woskie and Shepherd observe. “It is important to note that 11 tests yielded respirable crystalline silica exposures above the OSHA PEL in spite of the short sampling times.”

(You can read the study in its entirety at Controlling Dust from Concrete Saw Cutting.)  

You can learn more about silica exposure and what it causes by visiting CPWR’s excellent new resource,  National COSH praises CPWR for its outstanding work in trying to protect workers from on-the-job silica exposure.

And remember, we only have a few days left to sign the petition calling for the silica standard to move out of the OMB. Add your signature now.  

The petition and the proposed rule got some attention today in The Hill, which quotes an industry executive as saying:

“We believe that a new standard is unnecessary and that the best way to further reduce silica-related health effects and protect workers is stronger enforcement of the existing standard,” said Jackson Morrill, director for Chemical Products & Technology at the ACC. “Significantly increasing the regulatory burden could threaten tens of thousands of jobs and is likely to present enormous feasibility challenges in its implementation at a significant cost.”

Let’s rally and show him, the industry, and the Obama administration how crucial this rule is.

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