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New Silica Rule to Protect Workers’ Health

The Obama administration will be implementing a new rule surrounding silica in order to potentially prevent 600 deaths in the United States each year.

Crystalline silica is a dust, 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, that comes from granite and sand, and it can affect workers’ lungs. Under the silica rule, the feds will be lowering the amount of silica dust that companies can legally expose to its workers.

The Huffington Post reports that workers, labor unions, and health experts have been lobbying for standards like these for decades — 45 years, to be exact.

Tom Ward, a Detroit bricklayer, lost his father to this disease. “When I became an apprentice, I didn’t think I would be exposed to the same hazard that killed my father.”

“All of you who have been suffering,” Ward added, “your voice has been heard.”

According to HomeAdvisor, cleaning up construction sites can cost anywhere from $150 to $950, but the deadly disease hidden in the dust of those sites causes many more problems.

The diseases and ailments caused by exposure to silica dust — lung cancer, kidney disease, silicosis, and emphysema — are expensive to treat as well, so the Occupational Safety and Health Administration believes that these new regulations will save between $3.8 and $7.7 billion.

According to OSHA, approximately 2.3 million U.S. construction workers are exposed to silica dust.

The new rule will reduce the allowed exposure to silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. However, Business Insurance reports that some workers are skeptical about the new rule.

“There’s definitely concern that there’s not going to be a way to get to this limit,” Matthew Linton, of Holland and Hart L.L.P. in Denver, said. “Obviously, OSHA disagreed and moved the rule forward anyway.”

Patrick Devine, a construction worker in Ohio, is worried about achieving these goals of the silica plan. “It’s hard to argue with the science,” Devine said, “but it’s the feasibility, the economic impact it will have, that is the argument.”

The National Association of Manufacturers also criticized the new rule, saying it’s “fundamentally flawed” and relies on “appallingly out-of-date economic data.”

David Michaels, the head of the OSHA, was asked about these criticisms. “Industries typically overestimate the true cost of new regulations,” Michaels said, but he won’t underestimate the importance the rule will have on workers’ health.

“This is the most important health standard OSHA has issued in decades,” Michaels stated.




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