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Court Upholds New OSHA Rule On Silica Dust Exposure, Garnering Praise From Worker Safety Groups

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.

(LEO W GERARD) GOP: It’s OK for Corporations to Kill Workers

Worker Operating Heavy Machinery

Worker Operating Heavy Machinery (OSHA)

 

Alan White couldn’t shout jubilation from the rooftop on March 25 when he heard that the U.S. Department of Labor, after decades of trying, had finally issued a stricter rule to limit exposure to potentially deadly silica dust in workplaces.

He was happy, all right. After all, he’d worked with the United Steelworkers (USW) to get the rule adopted. It’s just that he knew shouting would induce his silicosis coughing.

Within days, though, indignation replaced his jubilation. White, who’d been sickened by the debilitating, irreversible and often fatal disease at work in a foundry, watched in disgust as Republicans attempted to overturn the rule that the Labor Department said could save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis annually.

Last week, GOP House members conducted a hearing to further their case against saving those lives. They did that just days before Workers Memorial Day, April 28, when organized labor renews its solemn pledge to strive for workplace safety rules and formally commemorates those who have died on the job in the previous year.

2016-04-24-1461513197-1819695-workersmemorialday.jpg

The totals aren’t in for 2015 yet, but the year before, 4,679 workers died on the job. That’s nearly 90 a week, 13 a day, seven days a week. Twenty-eight members of my own union, the USW, died on the job since Workers Memorial Day 2015.

But the GOP position is clear. Republicans will do whatever it takes to ensure that corporations can sicken and kill workers with impunity. If the argument is that workers’ lives and lungs must be sacrificed to ensure that foundries and fracking operations and construction companies can make bigger profits by releasing silica particles under 40-year-old standards now considered dangerous, then the GOP will take the side of CEOs who value workers as trivial.

These politicians would leave workers like Alan White to be victims of this sneaky, silent killer. Silica, which is in sand and rocks, is released during industrial processes that involve cutting and blasting and cleaning silica-containing materials, such as concrete, tile and brick. About 2 million American workers inhale the tiny crystalline particles in levels high enough to threaten their health, almost always without knowing it. The dust causes workers’ lung tissue to swell and become inflamed. Over time, that causes scarring, and the lungs stiffen, making it hard to breathe.

That condition, called silicosis, increases the worker’s risk of bronchitis, tuberculosis and lung cancer. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calculated that the previous exposure limits, which were set more than 40 years ago, were so inadequate that thousands of workers died every year even though their employers were complying with the law.

Alan White’s doctors determined his impairment to be 66 percent three years ago. They described it as progressive massive fibrosis of the lungs. At the age of 51, it means his life is circumscribed. “I went waking around the park and got passed up by a group of elderly women, say in their 70s, like six of them, who were running and talking. I can walk. But I can’t really talk while I am walking. I am sitting still and talking on the phone and getting out of breath,” he told me.

He must be careful about simple chores, like removing lint from the dryer filter. “I can’t just swipe at it because it will make me cough for 10 minutes,” he explained. If he tries to carry a basket of laundry up the 28 stairs, he may be able to make it, he said, “but then I can’t breathe. It is like am breathing in as much as I can and I am not getting enough air.” Anyone who has suffered asthma or has been held under water too long knows the panic that induces.

This crept up on White. He began work in the foundry at what is now called Aurubis in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1995. He stayed in the foundry for 16 years, but with the amount of overtime he worked, averaging 60-hour work weeks and often more than that, he estimates that it was the equivalent of 20 years.

There is silica-containing brick in the foundry furnace. When workers like White cleaned it with air chisels and crowbars, silica would fly into their environment without their knowledge.

White said the employer fitted him for several types of respirators and masks when he was hired, but told him he would need only the dust mask in the smoky foundry area. He believes now, too late, that he should have been wearing a particulate filter.

A decade after White started the job, he noticed he was slowing down and was tired a lot. He attributed it to aging and tried to lose weight and eat better.

In December of 2008, he developed a cough. It lingered through the winter and early spring. In April, just after he turned 44, he went to a doctor who heard something when he listened to White’s lungs and sent him for an X-ray.

The technician looked at the pictures and said to him, “I will be right back. Don’t move.” She brought in the doctor. “You know it is serious when they bring the doctor right in,” White said.

That doctor gave him the name of an expert who ordered a CAT scan. “He put the film on the wall and turned on the light. He knew right away what it was. He said, ‘This is silicosis.’”

White’s daughter was 19. He wondered if he would live to see her marry, to meet his grandkids.

At Aurubis, White is a member of the USW, and one of his doctors knew a USW health and safety expert and linked up the two. That’s how White got involved in the USW campaign to strengthen the silica rule. White testified at hearings, seeking stronger standards to prevent other workers from suffering as he has. And he has met U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who cites White’s case as an example of why decreasing silica exposure is so important.

But U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., chairman of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is intent on sending the silica standard back 40 years.

Walberg noted in a press release that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concedes that 30 percent of the jobsites it tested did not comply with the previous silica standard.

So, Walberg said, the Labor Department’s first priority should be enforcing that old standard, not creating new, tougher standards that would protect workers better. “If OSHA is unable – or unwilling – to enforce the current limit for silica exposure, why should we expect the results under these new standards to be any different?”he asked.

That, of course, disregards the 70 percent of workplaces that apparently did comply with the law and likely will obey the new regulations to protect their workers. It also deliberately ignores the fact that the Republican-controlledCongress has continuously cut funding for OSHA. Walberg condemns the safety police – OSHA – for failing to enforce the law after slashing the funding that would have enabled the safety police to enforce the law.

But Walberg also is contending that as long as one thing is broken, nothing can be fixed until that one thing is completely repaired. So, for example, as long as banks are being robbed by guys in ski masks, in Walberg’s world, the government should not outlaw cyber account theft. As he put it, “why should we expect the results under these new standards to be any different” when police haven’t stopped the ski mask thieves from breaking into vaults?

Alan White described the Republicans’ behavior as shameful. “It just shows the lack of understanding of what workers go through.”

White, who still works at Aurubis, but in shipping, where he can use a golf cart to get around when he needs to, also said he doesn’t understand why some corporations devalue human life: “At our facility, we buy copper and zinc and tin. Copper is a couple dollars a pound, tin is a few dollars a pound.

“Anyone who tries to take that out of the plant and to a scrap yard to make a few dollars can get fired. Just like you protect your raw materials, the people who do the work to make that raw material into a finished product must have some importance and protection.

“Why not show the same consideration for your human resource to make sure they are not injured?”

On this Workers Memorial Day, let’s make sure humans get better treatment than tin.

AFL-CIO Urges Administration to Finalize Long-Overdue Worker Protections

AFL-CIO_Headquarters_by_Matthew_Bisanz2Silica, Overtime, Persuader and Fiduciary Rules Will Strengthen Protections for Working Families

(Washington, DC, March 17, 2016) – Following the U.S. Department of Labor sending the much needed overtime rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the AFL-CIO renewed its call for final action on these worker protections to improve the lives of working people across the country. These regulations include rules on fiduciary responsibility, silica and the persuader rule.

“President Obama recognizes that the current rules are out of date and too weak to protect working men and women, so we are pleased that these improvements are moving forward,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “These worker protections have been decades in the making. It’s time to push these rules over the finish line so these important protections are finally cemented into place.”

The extension of overtime protections will get America’s working people one step closer to receiving their rightfully earned overtime pay. The current provisions are outdated and exclude protections for too many working people. The overtime threshold would be increased, extending protections to millions of people and providing a boost to the economy.

The new OSHA regulation on silica dust, a fine particle that is at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand and that causes silicosis, would save 700 lives each year and prevent 1,700 new cases of silicosis—a deadly condition that affects the lungs. Exposure to silica dust can occur when working with stone, concrete, brick, industrial sand and mortar.

The new persuader rule closes the loophole that allows employers and management consultants to avoid public disclosure when employers hire outside union-busters during an organizing drive. These firms hide behind a loophole to avoid disclosure even when they are creating anti-union propaganda such as fliers and videos.  

“We commend the Administration for moving the overtime protections bill to OMB and urge the Administration to finish its work on these critical worker protections,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

RALLY June 5th: Activists to Call on U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Stop Blocking Life-Saving Silica Rule

Silica Dust Worker Mask Full

WASHINGTON DC – A delegation of health and safety activists will deliver a NCOSH 300X250petition to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday, June 5th, calling on the Chamber to drop its opposition to OSHA’s proposed rule limiting worker exposure to silica dust.

“Workers are getting sick and dying every day from exposure to silica dust,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a non-profit advocacy group that will lead the delegation. “It’s long past time to put an affordable, practical rule in place that can protect workers and save lives.

Who:        Health and Safety Activists

What:       Delegation to U.S. Chamber of Commerce

When:      Friday, June 5th at 12:15 p.m.

Where:    Lafayette Park, H St. and Connecticut Avenue  

Dust from silica, widely used in construction, masonry, foundries, fracking and other industries, is a known carcinogen and can also cause tuberculosis, silicosis, lung infections and other potentially fatal disease.

OSHA proposed final rule requiring use of currently available and affordable technologies to limit exposure to silica dust in 2013. The new standard, based on years of research and sound science, could save an estimated 700 lives a year. It has been stalled for two years in large part due to efforts of business lobbyists, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Workers and their families have waited long enough,” said Barbara Rahke, executive director of PhilaPOSH and board chair of National COSH. “The U.S. Chamber is putting workers at risk – and turning its back on responsible employers who are using currently available technology to limit silica dust.”

Friday’s delegation will present hundreds of signatures gathered at the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health, which is taking place through June 4th at the Maritime Training Center in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.

Activists will hear keynote speeches from Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health at the U.S. Department of Labor and Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO. The National Conference also features dozens of workshops by leading organizers and health and safety practitioners on Basic Health and Safety Rights; Building Capacity for Disasters; Bilingual Worker Education; Lessons from Fatality Cases; Making OSHA Work; Whistleblower Protections, and other critical topics.

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.  “Preventable Deaths 2014,” a National COSH report, describes workplace fatalities in the United States and how they can be prevented. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org.  Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.

New England Bricklayers Testify in Support of OSHA’s Proposed Silica Rule

Highway road workersToday, members of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) testified at the public hearings held by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) in support of the adoption of OSHA’s proposed silica standard affecting more than 2.1 million workers. BAC has fought for more than four decades for a stronger, more comprehensive standard to reduce silica exposure and protect workers in the construction industry.

Led by the International Union President James Boland, five BAC members including Local 2 Michigan members Tom Ward and Dale McNabb, Local 5 Oklahoma/Arkansas/Texas member Tommy Todd, Local 3 Massachusetts/Maine/New Hampshire/Rhode Island member Sean Barrett, and Local 3 Arizona/New Mexico member Dennis Cahill told their stories of silica exposure, a jobsite poison that has injured and killed thousands of workers. Their testimonies provided incontrovertible evidence that the provisions of OSHA’s proposed silica standard are reasonable, feasible and necessary to protect workers. The standard once implemented is expected to prevent more than 1600 illnesses and nearly 700 deaths annually.

President Boland stated in his testimony, “It’s been four decades. Four decades. Workers are still getting sick and dying from silicosis and there is no denying it anymore. Enough is enough. Workers in the construction trades are counting on us to enact the new standards. They need protection. NOW.”

To learn more about OSHA’s proposed silica standard, please visit:https://www.osha.gov/silica/

The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is the oldest continuous union in North America and represents roughly 85,000 skilled masonry-trowel trades craftworkers in the United States and Canada, including bricklayers, tile setters, cement masons, plasterers, stone masons, marble masons, restoration workers, and terrazzo and mosaic workers.

Hispanic Immigrant Workers To Testify For Stronger Regulations On Silica Dust Exposure At Safety Hearing

New Limits Needed on Workplace Dust, Say Those Who Breathe it Every Day 

Washington DC –Hispanic immigrants from the construction and foundry industries who are directly affected by silica dust, a widespread industrial hazard, will testify today before an administrative law judge of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“We are exposed to the poison,” said José Granado, a construction worker from Houston who came to the United States from El Salvador 15 year ago. “I came to the U.S. looking for a better life. However due to risky and unsafe work that I’m doing in the construction industry, it’s looks like that instead of getting a better life, I came to give mine away.”

At issue is a landmark new regulation, the first proposed by OSHA in many years, which would limit exposure of workers to silica dust. Hearings on the proposed rule, which began at the U.S. Department of Labor on March 18th, will continue through April 4th. Dust from building materials and other industrial processes is common in construction, foundries, glassmaking, hydraulic fracking and other industries.

Experts from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have testified that exposure to silica dust can cause silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, airways diseases, and autoimmune disorders.  OSHA is proposing a new limit of 50 micrograms of silica dust per cubic meter of air space, a standard that was first recommended by NIOSH in 1974.

Seven immigrant workers from Houston, Milwaukee, New Jersey and Philadelphia and will testify in Spanish today with the aid of an interpreter. Today’s testimony is a rare opportunity for top government officials to hear from workers directly impacted by proposed safety regulations.

The workers are affiliated with local worker centers and health and safety groups, including Fe y Justicia Workers’ Center in Houston, Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee, New Labor in New Jersey and the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health.

“Immigrant workers often have few options but to take dirty, dangerous jobs that lack proper safety precautions,” said Jessica Martinez, deputy director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a worker advocacy coalition. “These men and women typically work outside the standards of a union contract, which can make it especially difficult to access training and protection from silica dust and other workplace hazards. They are breathing in dangerous dust every day. Their voices must be heard when considering how to make our workplaces as safe as possible.”

According to Granado, contractors routinely ignore safety precautions.

“They only care that the construction project will be completed on time. They don’t care that we work long hours, and we are exposed all those hours, they don’t give us any protective equipment, do not use water or any equipment to vacuum away the dust.

Some coworkers are afraid to report what happens, because the first thing the company tells us that if we do not want to work in that conditions, if we do not like, we have to go to work elsewhere.”

Also testifying today is Jonas Mendoza, a construction worker from New Jersey who is a safety liaison for New Labor. He plans to tell OSHA:

“In the construction industry contractors do not provide the workers with the basics to do the job. In many instances if you ask for protective equipment they give you a mask from the 99 cents store to shut you up… All the contractors should be more considerate with their workers. There are feasible ways to control dust, to prevent contamination of the environment and without hurting the people that perform these jobs.

We are also exposed to dust and we have a high probability of getting lung related diseases as a result of inhaling hazardous dusts.  We don’t even know that is affecting us. Many times we do these jobs without any protection. We are exposed to hazards on demolition jobs in unsafe conditions, in places that are not cleaned, places where there is not even a place to wash your hands before eating. Places where everything is cover in dust.”

In addition to today’s witnesses, who are directly affected by dust exposure, National COSH workplace safety experts will testify before OSHA next Tuesday, April 1st.
ALSO

USW panels to testify in OSHA hearings on proposed standard for workplace exposure to crystalline silica

Panels representing the United Steelworkers (USW) who are job safety specialists will each present testimony this morning at public hearings being held by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) in support of a OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) proposed standard to protect workers from silica exposure.

The two USW panels will include workers from facilities where job exposure to respirable crystalline silica occurs daily. USW members are exposed to silica in foundries, glass making, refractory manufacturing and shipyards. The hearings begin each day at 9:30 am and run Mar. 18 – Apr. 4 in the Cesar Chavez Auditorium at the USDOL (200 Constitution Ave., NW).

Silica dust is a killer. It causes silicosis, a disabling lung disease that literally suffocates workers to death. It also causes lung cancer, respiratory and kidney diseases.

The proposed rule would cut permitted dust exposure levels in half; require exposure monitoring; medical exams for workers and implementation of dust control methods. The updated standard would protect more than two million workers exposed to deadly silica dust.

Panels representing the United Steelworkers (USW) who are job safety specialists will each present testimony this morning at public hearings being held by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) in support of a OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) proposed standard to protect workers from silica exposure.

The two USW panels will include workers from facilities where job exposure to respirable crystalline silica occurs daily. USW members are exposed to silica in foundries, glass making, refractory manufacturing and shipyards. The hearings begin each day at 9:30 am and run Mar. 18 – Apr. 4 in the Cesar Chavez Auditorium at the USDOL (200 Constitution Ave., NW).

Silica dust is a killer. It causes silicosis, a disabling lung disease that literally suffocates workers to death. It also causes lung cancer, respiratory and kidney diseases.

The proposed rule would cut permitted dust exposure levels in half; require exposure monitoring; medical exams for workers and implementation of dust control methods. The updated standard would protect more than two million workers exposed to deadly silica dust.

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