By Susan Harley, deputy director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch and Keith Wrightson, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch
Silica dust is currently a major concern for construction workers and workers in other industries. Respirable silica dust particles cannot be seen with the human eye, and it only takes a small amount of airborne silica dust to create a major health hazard.
Silica dust is created by cutting, grinding and drilling materials such as asphalt, brick, cement, concrete, drywall, grout, mortar, stone, sand, and tile. In other words, materials which can be found on almost every construction site across the United States.
In 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed to write a rule to lower the permissible exposure limits for silica dust. Public Citizen has called for the proposed rule to be strengthened and for OSHA to move to lower the limits of exposure in order to save lives now.
OSHA estimates thousands of deaths would be prevented by lowering the limits so what’s keeping it from moving forward? It might have to do with the fact that U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its corporate cronies have opposed the rulemaking.
Recently, worker safety advocates delivered a petition to the trade association’s headquarters and challenged the Chamber be up front and tell the public why they want to block a rule that would help keep workers safer on the job. They refused to do so.
In fact, representatives from the Chamber stood outside their building and yelled to the assembled worker advocates comments like, “If we are so wrong on silica then when does the administration agree with us? Why have they not released the rule?”
We all know that the Chamber uses dark money to influence politicians to gain traction on its positions.
Frustrated with the Chambers’ comments to the crowd, Public Citizens’ own Keith Wrightson challenged the Chamber representatives to stop lobbying against the silica rule and obstructing progress on the lifesaving standard. “The Chamber declined to comment when they were put on the spot and were quickly ushered inside by security guards,” said Wrightson.
Nearly two years after the rulemaking was proposed by the agency, there has been no action by OSHA to finalize and implement the rule. Every year that passes without a rule means at least 700 workers die from exposure to silica.
We cannot allow those workers to be treated like nothing but dust in the wind. They cannot be forgotten.
The Chamber should end its unconscionable opposition to OSHA’s proposed rule. Lives are depending on it.