Workers’ Right to Protection from Deadly Silica Dust Affirmed by DC Appeals Court
National COSH says this decisions is “A Huge Win For Millions of Workers”
Yesterday, the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia released their decision on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) groundbreaking worker protection rule limiting exposure to Silica. OSHA instituted the new rule in 2016 sharply lowering the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for worker exposure to silica dust to 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter, reducing dust levels two to five times lower than the current permissible exposure.
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.
“This is a huge win for millions of workers in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding and many other industries. Low-wage workers and those in the informal sector can now be assured of safer working conditions,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “The U.S Court of Appeals has upheld OSHA’s finding – based on extensive research and expert testimony – that silica dust is significant risk to workers’ health. The silica standard remains in effect, with feasible, affordable requirements to reduce dust in the workplace and protect workers from silicosis and other potentially life-threatening diseases.”
“Now that industry’s challenge to this sensible, life-saving rule has failed, OSHA must focus on rigorous enforcement. National COSH will continue our efforts to inform workers about how to exercise their right to a workplace free from harmful dust and other hazards,” Martinez added.
OSHA estimates the new rule 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.
“Working people won a huge victory today with the court’s decision fully upholding OSHA’s 2016 final silica standard. This will protect millions of workers from disabling disease and save thousands of lives,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The court rejected industries’ arguments and directed the agency to further consider additional union safety recommendations.
“The labor movement worked for decades to win these lifesaving measures, and we are proud to see these standards remain the law of the land. I want to thank all of those who contributed to this great victory, including the Obama administration and the career staff at the Department of Labor.”
“Now we must turn our efforts to making sure this standard is put into full effect, enforced and protected from further attacks so that workers are finally protected from deadly silica dust,” Trumka concluded.