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OSHA Rule Would Limit Worker Exposure to Deadly Silica Dust

New Jersey Dept. of Health photo

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) held the first in a series of hearings on a proposed rule to limit workers’ exposure to silica. The current standard is 40 years old.   

Every year some 2 million workers are exposed deadly silica dust each year and, according to public health experts, more than 7,000 workers develop silicosis and 200 die each year as a result of this disabling lung disease. Silicosis literally suffocates workers to death. Silica is also linked to lung cancer, pulmonary and kidney 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 the industry have called for, won’t protect workers.

OSHA says the proposed rule would bring “worker protections into the 21st century” and would save 700 lives and prevent 1,700 new cases of silicosis a year if implemented. But a number of employer groups in such industries as sand and gravel, brick, fracking where silica dust is prevalent, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate groups are lined to testify against the proposed rule during the 14 days of hearings in Washington, D.C. Over the next two weeks, we will bring you updates on the hearings.  

AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario is scheduled to testify Friday, and workplace safety and health experts from other unions, along with workers who have developed silica-related illnesses, will appear during the course of the hearings  

Respirable (small enough to breath in) silica dust particles are very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand and is created during work operations involving stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, mortar and industrial sand. Exposures to respirable silica dust can occur when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling and crushing these materials. These exposures are common in brick, concrete and pottery manufacturing operations, as well as during operations using industrial sand products, such as in foundries, sand blasting and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in the oil and gas industry.

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