The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced a final rule to improve protections for workers exposed to “respirable” silica dust. The rule will curb lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in our nation’s workers by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
“This rule will save lives,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “It will enable workers to earn a living without sacrificing their health. It builds upon decades of research and a lengthy stakeholder engagement process – including the consideration of thousands of public comments – to finally give workers the kind of protection they deserve.”
OSHA estimates that when the final rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica becomes fully effective, it will save more than 600 lives annually and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – each year. The agency also estimates the final rule will provide net benefits of about $7.7 billion per year.
According to a recent OSHA press release, about 2.3 million men and women face exposure to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including two million construction workers who drill and cut silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries and hydraulic fracturing. Most employers can limit harmful dust exposure by using equipment that is widely available – often using water to keep dust from getting into the air or a ventilation system to capture dust where it is created.
The final rule is written as two standards, one for construction and one for general industry and maritime.
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