Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by breathing in particles of silica dust. Silica is also linked to other diseases like lung cancer and chronic renal disease. The types of employment where silica dust exposure is most prevalent include mining, construction and manufacturing. According to health professionals, thousands of patients are diagnosed with silicosis each year and hundreds die from the disease.
Almost a year ago the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed new regulations intended to combat this work place hazard. However, worker safety advocates maintain that industry stakeholders are interfering with the passage of the regulations. The existing rules limiting worker exposure to silica were adopted in the 1960s and occupational health experts insist that the safe limit is half of what is permitted by the current standard. Members of a coalition representing several industries claim that the current levels are adequate to protect workers and the changes proposed by the new regulations would cost billions of dollars. Jackson Morrill, the head of the coalition, asserts that the real problem is a failure on the part of employers to comply with the current rules.
Union groups and safety advocates are frustrated with the delay in passing the proposed regulations and are pushing for the Department of Labor to initiate a public debate and put an end to behind the scenes negotiations. According to a statement issued by The National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health “the current standard is many decades old and is insufficient to protect workers from this serious occupational health hazard… The silica rule delay is extraordinary and without explanation…”
Click here to read a letter written to President Obama, signed by 300 public health scientists, doctors, and occupational safety experts, asking him to direct the White House Office of Management and Budget to complete its review of the proposed regulations.
Sources: New Silica Rules Languish In Regulatory Black Hole, by Nell Greenfield Boyce, NPR Morning Edition, February 2, 2012.
SafetyNewsAlert.com, January 26, 2012.