Advocates Push For New DOL Rule On Silica Dust, While Republicans Try To Scuttle Change

Matt Murray New Hampshire Labor News

This week, the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing to review the Department of Labor’s (DOL) long-awaited rule updating the silica dust standard.

Silica is common in many workplace dust exposures. It is found in stone, rock, brick, and other building materials. More than 2 million workers are exposed to silica dust each year in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding and other industries.

Crystalline silica is a human lung carcinogen and can also lead to kidney and respiratory diseases. Breathing in silica dust can cause silicosis, a lung disease that can severely disable affected workers. A worker with silicosis typically has trouble breathing, making it difficult to walk, climb steps or carry out other basic functions. The disease can be fatal; there is no cure or treatment currently available.

Since 2009, House Republicans have been trying to block this rule change with claims that the rule change will harm businesses through increased costs.

“Today’s hearing of the House Education and the Workforce Committee is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to undermine this much needed regulatory reform,” said International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers President James Boland.

Democratic committee members strongly support this new standard to reduce workers’ exposure to silica dust, a World Health Organization declared carcinogen that causes silicosis, lung cancer, respirable illnesses such as COPD, and kidney disease.  DOL projects the new standard will save more than 600 lives each year and prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis each year.

“The purpose of the new federal rule limiting exposure to silica dust is to save lives, reduce disease and make our workplaces safer,” said Jessica Martinez, Acting Executive Director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).”

“It’s unclear, however,  what the purpose of today’s hearing is. The concerns employers have about the new rule have been heard and these issues have been decided during an exhaustive regulatory process. OSHA rigorously followed all required rules and procedures and received extensive input from all stakeholders, including workers, employers and safety experts,” added Martinez.

“The Subcommittee on Workforce Protections can make better use of its time — and taxpayer money — by examining the many other areas in which workers need new, enforceable protections against hazards which claim tens of thousand of lives and cause millions of injuries every year,” Martinez concluded.

The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers President James Boland released the following statement in Support of OSHA’s Final Rule to Protect Workers from Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica: 

The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) applauds OSHA for doing what’s right for working people; creating healthier workplaces by updating the silica standard is a simple solution to a deadly problem.

The current standard is insufficient to protect construction workers. At the current permissible exposure limit, 100% of construction workers will get sick or die from silica-related illness over the course of a 40 year career. According to a CDC report issued under President Bush, “deaths from inhalation of silica-containing dust can occur after a few months’ exposure.”[1] That is a fact that has been well-established, and we have seen the results of exposure at permissible limits in the untimely illness of far too many bricklayers—union and non-union alike. Even at the reduced permissible limit under the new rule, a significant number of workers will become ill over the course of their working lives, but it will go a long way toward improving the health and safety of workers in this industry.

The new standard provides a meaningful and practical way for employers and employees to comply with the law. This is not complicated. Table one in the rule “matches common construction tasks with dust control methods, so employers know exactly what they need to do to limit worker exposures to silica. The dust control measures listed in the table include methods known to be effective, like using water to keep dust from getting into the air or using ventilation to capture dust. In some operations, respirators may also be needed. Employers who follow Table 1 correctly are not required to measure workers’ exposure to silica and are not subject to the permissible exposure limit.”[2]  The remedies offered in the new standard are simple: water and electricity are available on jobsites already, and most equipment already comes with standard attachments for water or vacuum removal methods.

Today’s hearing of the House Education and the Workforce Committee is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to undermine this much needed regulatory reform. Members of the BAC are committed to do everything in our power to support the silica standard for the construction industry and fight any effort to overturn or delay implementation of the rule.

We are very disappointed in today’s effort by congressional republicans trying to undercut safety efforts in favor of a few powerful interests. For decades, BAC has fought for reduced exposure limits, and the science is behind us. Working people should not get sick and die in return for a hard day’s work—especially when reasonable, feasible and available measures exist to protect them.

Congress would do well to remember that the people exposed to this hazardous element expect that their elected representatives will do what’s good for America, our communities and our families. It is the right time to move this rule forward, and we expect our elected leaders to do their jobs and lead.

Hopefully members of Congress will ultimately move forward with the rule change and put the health and safety of workers ahead of corporate lobbyist who are pushing against it.

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This was reposted from NH Labor News.

The New Hampshire Labor News is a group of NH Workers who believe that we need to protect ourselves against the attacks on workers. We are proud union members who are working to preserve the middle class. The NHLN talks mostly about news and politics from NH. We also talk about national issues that effect working men and women here in the Granite State.

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