Millions of workers can literally breathe easier knowing that they will not have to sacrifice their lungs and their lives by working in deadly silica dust. The new OSHA silica rules – nearly 20 years in the making – will save hundreds of workers’ lives a year.
Silica dust is a killer that causes silicosis, lung cancer and other disabling diseases. Workers in construction, foundries and ship building are exposed, and thousands of workers get sick each year. 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. The current OSHA silica standards are 50 years old and are too weak to protect workers.
The new silica rules are the most significant OSHA standards issued in decades. They cut permissible dust exposures in half for manufacturing workers and even more for construction workers. The rules require employers to control dust through common sense measures like ventilation and water, to monitor exposures, train workers and conduct medical exams.
OSHA estimates the new rule issued today 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.
“Our next step is to make sure workers and employers know how to control silica dust at the worksite,” said Peter Dooley, a health and safety project consultant at National COSH. “That means training and materials provided in language workers can understand. It also means informing workers about their right to a safe and healthy workplace – and the actions they can take to enforce their rights.”
The labor movement applauds the Obama administration for issuing these lifesaving measures and commends Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels for their tremendous leadership and dedication to bring the silica rules to completion. The labor movement has fought for these standards for decades.