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OSHA Releases New Standards On Silica Exposure, The AFL-CIO Says It’s “Long Overdue”

Silica Dust Worker Mask Full

Every day across the country workers put themselves in potential danger from Silica dust. Crystalline silica, a compound found in sand, quartz, flint, slate and other elements. Silica isn’t hazardous until it’s airborne, like when it is crushed, ground or cut with a saw.

“Exposure to airborne crystalline silica can put workers at risk of developing silicosis, a non-curable lung disease caused by accumulation of silica dust in the lungs. The dust embeds itself in the lungs and causes scar tissue to form. The scar tissue reduces the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.” (source)

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced a proposed rule aimed at curbing lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in America’s workers. The proposal seeks to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica, which kills hundreds of workers and sickens thousands more each year. After publication of the proposal, the public will have 90 days to submit written comments, followed by public hearings.

“Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “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, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease. We’re looking forward to public comment on the proposal.”

Once the full effects of the rule are realized, OSHA estimates that the proposed rule would result in saving nearly 700 lives per year and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually.

“The proposed rule uses common sense measures that will protect workers’ lives and lungs-like keeping the material wet so dust doesn’t become airborne,” added Michaels. “It is designed to give employers flexibility in selecting ways to meet the standard.”

The AFL-CIO released this statement after OSHA announced proposed rule
to protect workers exposed to crystalline silica.

The AFL-CIO welcomes today’s release of OSHA’s proposed silica standard. This rule when finalized will help protect more than 2 million workers exposed to this deadly dust and save hundreds of workers lives each year. It is particularly important for workers in construction, foundries, shipyards and in oil and gas drilling who face the highest exposures.

This rule is long overdue. The development of the silica standard began more than 16 years ago.  Meanwhile workers have continued to suffer unnecessary disease and death.

Silica dust is a killer. It causes silicosis a disabling lung disease that literally suffocates workers to death. It also causes lung cancer and other diseases. The current OSHA silica standard was adopted decades ago and fails to protect workers.  It allows very high levels of exposure and has no requirements to train workers or monitor exposure levels. Simply enforcing the current rule, as some in industry have called for won’t protect workers.

But this new standard will. The proposed rule will cut permitted dust exposure levels in half, require exposure monitoring and medical exams for exposed workers and require the implementation of well-established dust control methods, like the use of water and ventilation.

But this rule is only a proposal – workers exposed to silica dust will only be protected when a final rule is issued.  Some industry groups are certain to attack the rule and try to stop it in its tracks. The AFL-CIO will do everything we can to see that does not happen. We urge the Obama administration to continue moving forward with the public rulemaking process without delay. The final silica rule should be issued as fast as humanly possible, to protect the health and lives of American workers.

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