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OSHA Announces Important New Standards for Limiting Silica Dust, Forms Alliance to Better Enable Women in Construction

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After years of stalled attempts and worker protests, OSHA finally put forward new standards for Silica Dust, a move that the agency says will prevent hundreds of annual deaths and illnesses in the construction industry.  The two-part proposal will tackle limits for Silica Dust in the construction industry and create standards for the maritime and other industries.  

The new OSHA proposal places the permissible exposure limit (PEL) at 50 micrograms of crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day.  This replaces the outdated former standard which under the new measurement meant roughly 250 micrograms a day.  OSHA estimates that once their proposal is implemented it will save 700 lives each year and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis.

Somehow, the absolutely necessary ruling brought mixed reactions.  Labor was naturally enthusiastic and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the new standards “long overdue.”  Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, David Michaels said, “Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential.  Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe.”

Industry groups were split on the decision as many had lobbied for years against the new regulations:

The National Industrial Sand Association, which has opposed efforts to toughen the current standard, said that stronger exposure limits weren’t necessary.

“Because our companies have successfully protected their workers under the current permissible exposure limit (PEL), we do not believe there is a proven need to lower that level and disagree with OSHA’s proposal to cut that limit in half,” said Mark Ellis, the organization’s president, in a statement.

He added that the group supported others aspects of the proposal, including requiring medical surveillance and monitoring of workers’ exposure to the dust.

The National Asphalt Pavement Association, however, said in a statement that the asphalt industry “is positioned to meet the new standard.”

The public and interested parties will now have 90 days to submit written comments on the proposal after it is recorded in the Federal Register.  A series of public hearings will then take place before the regulation can become official.  

On another pro-active note, OSHA announced it had signed into an alliance with the National Association of Women in Construction to create resources to protect women in the industry.  The goal will be to help women understand musculoskeletal and sanitation hazards as well as issues related to poorly-fitting personal protective equipment.  The two-year agreement will create development training programs, fact sheets, and a web site.

More from David Michaels:

“Safety and health problems in construction create barriers to women entering and remaining in this field.  Through this alliance, we will work together to forge innovative solutions to improve the safety, health and working conditions for women in the construction trades and retain female workers during a critical time of job shortages in this industry.”

For more information on the alliance visit the OSHA-NAWIC web page.


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