National Consumers League

Help protect American workers from on-the-job silica exposure


schneiderGuest post by Scott Schneider, MS, CIH, Director of Occupational Safety and Health, Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America Silica is not a new problem in the workplace. More than 80 years ago hundreds of workers died from acute silicosis digging the Gauley Bridge tunnel in West Virginia. Congressional hearings were held and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins held an investigation and declared that it was our duty to eliminate silicosis from the workplace. In the 1970’s the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed recommendations to reduce exposures to silica in the workplace yet it wasn’t until the 1990s when OSHA began to take action. The initiated a rule to reduce silica exposures and kicked off a campaign (”It’s Not Just Dust”) to increase awareness of the problem. Over the years we have learned even more about the dangers of silica. Overexposure to silica not only causes silicosis, an irreversible, progressive lung disease, it is also associated with lung cancer, chronic renal disease and autoimmune disorders. An estimated 1.7 million U.S. workers are still exposed to this serious hazard. Public health experts estimate that 280 workers die each year from silicosis and thousands more develop silicosis as a result of workplace exposures After many years work and delays OSHA finally sent a draft silica standard to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in February 2011. OMB normally has 90 days to review a proposed regulation. As of next month, it will have held onto this proposal for two years. Each year of delay means additional thousands of workers will be exposed and at risk of illness or death. Releasing the proposal and publishing it in the Federal Register is just the start of a very public process which includes OSHA public hearings and comment periods. The White House needs to release this standard for publication so OSHA can proceed with a rulemaking. Lives are at stake. You can help by signing a petition on the White House Web site. The petition requires 25,000 signatures by February 11 to elicit a formal response from the White House. Please add your signature today to help us take this next step towards protecting workers from this serious hazard.