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National COSH Reacts to New OSHA Rule: Millions of Workers Can Breathe Easier as Life-Saving Rule Limits Exposure to Deadly Silica Dust

Thursday, March 24, 2016
Press Contacts: 

Roger Kerson, 734.645.0535; roger@nationalcosh.org

Safety Experts Say Training for At-Risk Workers is Crucial to
Preventing Injuries, Illnesses and Fatalities

SAN DIEGO, CA – Safety experts from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said today that new federal limits on exposure to deadly silica dust will save hundreds of lives every year and make workplaces safer for millions of workers.

“Workers across America can breathe easier today,” said National COSH Acting Executive Director Jessica Martinez. “We’ve known for decades that silica dust is deadly. With new common-sense rules in place to limit exposure, we can save lives and reduce suffering from silicosis, cancer and other life-threatening diseases.”

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced today final implementation of a new rule, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which will sharply lower the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for worker exposure to silica dust. The new limit, 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter, reduces dust levels two to five times lower than the current permissible exposure.

“This is a great victory and a step forward towards safer workplaces,” said Javier Garcia Hernandez, a construction worker and former consultant for the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH). Garcia Hernandez testified at an OSHA hearing on silica in April 2014. “Safety advocates worked for years to get this rule in place,” he said. “Controlling silica dust is especially important to immigrant workers and other vulnerable groups, who are often assigned the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs on any worksite.”

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.

Silica dust is a known human carcinogen. Exposure can also lead to silicosis, an incurable and potentially fatal disease that interferes with basic lung functions, making it difficult for an affected worker to breathe. Between 1999 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 2,000 workers died from silicosis, just one of the diseases linked to exposure to silica dust.

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.”

A National COSH Fact Sheet on silica dust is available at http://bit.ly/Silica-Backgrounder

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National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.