February 1, 2012 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

Celeste wrote last week about the letter from scientists and public health experts urging President Obama to direct the Office of Management and Budget to finish reviewing the Department of Labor’s proposed health standard on crystalline silica. Respirable crystalline silica has been known for several centuries as an occupational hazard — it can cause irreversible fibrotic lung disease and is also associated with lung cancer. An estimated 1.7 million US workers are exposed to this hazard, and could benefit from the rule. But OMB has been reviewing the rule for more than 11 months.

The Huffington Post and EHS Today both picked up on the story right away, and this morning NPR’s Morning Edition aired a story on it. NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce reports:

[Occupational health physician Tee Guidotti] was pleased when, last Valentine’s Day, the Department of Labor sent the OMB a new proposal for regulating silica. That office has to review the proposal before it is made public, and that review was supposed to take only 90 days.

As the one-year anniversary approaches, many safety advocates wonder what’s holding things up. Records show that officials have held nine private meetings on the issue.

Guidotti went to one, which was requested by a medical group, the American Thoracic Society. He says officials didn’t ask too many questions. “But you could tell from what they did ask that they were very well-briefed,” Guidotti says. “So they know about this. They know it well.”

Most of the other meetings were with industry groups, like the American Chemistry Council’s Crystalline Silica Panel.

… A Labor Department spokesman said that OSHA was working with the White House office “to address complex issues related to the costs, benefits and economic impact analyses.” This has required “extensive new analyses by OSHA” and additional review, he said, but OSHA would “continue to complete the required steps in the rule-making process as quickly as possible.”

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health has launched a Deadly Dust tumblr with news, information, and video clips on this issue.

In other news:

New York Times: Workers in China who assemble iPads, iPhones, and other Apple products often labor under conditions that are unhealthy — and in some cases, deadly.

Occupational Health & Safety: A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found elevated risk of substance abuse and other mental health disorders among Army and Marine veterans returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Charleston Gazette: After an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 miners, many wondered why the mine’s poor safety record hadn’t gotten it shut down by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The backlash against MSHA’s closure of the Lucky Friday mine in Idaho gives some clues as to why the agency might have been hesitant to shut down Upper Big Branch.

NIOSH Science Blog: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health researchers have found that retired NFL players (1959-1988 seasons) had a lower overall death rate compared to racially similar men in the overall population. However, some players had an elevated risk of death from heart disease: those with BMIs of 30 or higher (compared to players with BMIs under 30), and African-American players (compared to Caucasian players).

Denver Post: Colorado health officials want to require nearly all hospital and nursing-home workers to get flu vaccinations, with no religious or other personal exemptions allowed.

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