Millions of Workers Can Breathe Easier as Life-Saving Rule Limits Exposure to Deadly Silica Dust
Safety Experts Say Training for At-Risk Workers is Crucial to Preventing Injuries, Illnesses and Fatalities
SAN DIEGO, CA – Safety experts from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said today that new federal limits on exposure to deadly silica dust will save hundreds of lives every year and make workplaces safer for millions of workers.
“Workers across America can breathe easier today,” said National COSH Acting Executive Director Jessica Martinez. “We’ve known for decades that silica dust is deadly. With new common-sense rules in place to limit exposure, we can save lives and reduce suffering from silicosis, cancer and other life-threatening diseases.”
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced today final implementation of a new rule, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which will sharply lower the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for worker exposure to silica dust. The new limit, 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter, reduces dust levels two to five times lower than the current permissible exposure.
“This is a great victory and a step forward towards safer workplaces,” said Javier Garcia Hernandez, a construction worker and former consultant for the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH). Garcia Hernandez testified at an OSHA hearing on silica in April 2014. “Safety advocates worked for years to get this rule in place,” he said. “Controlling silica dust is especially important to immigrant workers and other vulnerable groups, who are often assigned the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs on any worksite.”
Statement of AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka on OSHA’s new workplace silica standards:
Today millions of workers can literally breathe easier knowing that they will not have to sacrifice their lungs and their lives by working in deadly silica dust. The new OSHA silica rules – nearly 20 years in the making – will save hundreds of workers’ lives a year.
Silica dust is a killer that causes silicosis, lung cancer and other disabling diseases. Workers in construction, foundries and ship building are exposed, and thousands of workers get sick each year. The current OSHA silica standards are 50 years old and are too weak to protect workers.
The new silica rules are the most significant OSHA standards issued in decades. They cut permissible dust exposures in half for manufacturing workers and even more for construction workers. The rules require employers to control dust through common sense measures like ventilation and water, to monitor exposures, train workers and conduct medical exams.
We applaud the Obama administration for issuing these lifesaving measures and commend Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels for their tremendous leadership and dedication to bring the silica rules to completion. The labor movement has fought for these standards for decades. We will continue to fight to defend these rules from the certain industry attacks that will come, so that workers are finally protected from this deadly dust.
Silica is found in stone, rock, brick and other common building materials. Cutting, drilling, shaping, molding and other operations expose more than two million workers each year to the hazards of silica dust in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding and other industries.
Silica dust is a known human carcinogen. Exposure can also lead to silicosis, an incurable and potentially fatal disease that interferes with basic lung functions, making it difficult for an affected worker to breathe. Between 1999 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 2,000 workers died from silicosis, just one of the diseases linked to exposure to silica dust.
Terry O’Sullivan, General President of LIUNA – the Laborers’ International Union of North America – made the following statement in reaction to the issuance of a new OSHA standard for silica:
The new OSHA standard for silica is a welcome and long overdue step towards safer job sites for the many millions of workers who suffer from its deadly impacts. LIUNA has advocated with our allies in the Building Trades for a stronger standard on silica exposure for many years. The agency should be applauded for their efforts in finalizing the rule and consideration of stakeholder input. We look forward to reviewing the rule in greater detail.
For too long, workers in the construction industry have been needlessly exposed to silica-related diseases. With implementation of this rule, millions of construction workers – including the hardworking men and women of LIUNA – will be safer on the job.
OSHA estimates the new rule issued today will prevent nearly 700 deaths each year, saving the U.S. economy between $2.8 and $4.5 billion a year due to reduced costs for illness, injury and death of affected workers.
The new OSHA standard requires employers to use cost-effective measures to reduce silica dust, including wetting down affected areas, vacuuming up dust before workers can inhale it, and improved ventilation. Employers must also monitor workers’ exposure to silica, provide medical exams for those with high exposure, and train all potentially exposed workers about the hazards of silica dust and how to avoid them.
“Our next step is to make sure workers and employers know how to control silica dust at the worksite,” said Peter Dooley, a health and safety project consultant at National COSH. “That means training and materials provided in language workers can understand. It also means informing workers about their right to a safe and healthy workplace – and the actions they can take to enforce their rights.”
A National COSH Fact Sheet on silica dust is available at http://bit.ly/Silica-Backgrounder
National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.