Washington, D.C., Aug. 23, 2013 — The American Public Health Association announced its strong support for the proposal issued today by the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Health and Safety Administration that aims to protect workers who are exposed to respirable crystalline silica. Overexposure to silica dust causes silicosis, an irreversible and disabling lung disease, and is also associated with lung cancer, chronic renal disease and autoimmune disorders. There are no cures for silica-related diseases, but they can be prevented by controlling silica dust exposures in the work environment.
“We strongly support OSHA’s effort to improve protections for workers who are exposed to silica,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “The proposal marks an important step in addressing a serious health hazard for workers,” he added.
An estimated 2.2 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their jobs. Most of the exposed workers are in the construction trades, and are involved in jackhammering, cutting, grinding or sawing stone, concrete, bricks and masonry. Workers employed in foundries, glass manufacturing, brick-making facilities, and at hydraulic fracking sites can also be exposed to respirable silica. Public health experts report that about 200 workers die each year from silicosis, and estimate as many as 7,300 new cases of silicosis develop annually among U.S. workers.
“The public comment period and hearings will allow health experts, affected workers and businesses to share information and expertise with OSHA about silica exposure and controls,” noted Linda Delp, PhD, MPH, chair of APHA’s Occupational Health and Safety Section. “We welcome the opportunity to participate in the rulemaking process to bring health protections to silica-exposed workers.”
In those workplace settings in which respirable silica dust is generated, OSHA is proposing to require employers to take a number of steps. These include using water as a dust suppressant or local exhaust ventilation when cutting silica-containing materials, replacing sand with safer substitutes for abrasive blasting tasks, providing respiratory protection when appropriate, and offering medical testing for heavily exposed workers.