February 25, 2013 Liz Borkowski, MPH 1Comment

The two-year anniversary of OSHA’s proposed silica rule being stuck at the White House Office of Management & Budget (which Celeste wrote about here) attracted some media attention. NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce did an in-depth story on the hazards of airborne silica exposure, which increases the risk of lung cancer and the lung disease silicosis, and the lengthy White House inaction on OSHA’s proposal. Her piece includes a story from one worker who saw the damage of silica exposure firsthand:

Tom Ward, a 44-year-old mason who lives and works in Michigan, knows just how bad silicosis is. When he was a kid, his dad developed silicosis, after working as a sandblaster. Ward remembers his father coming home one day and collapsing.

“The last day he worked he came in and fell down and pretty much, you know, fell apart basically, and said, ‘I can’t do it no more,’ ” says Ward.

His father got the official diagnosis of silicosis at age 34 and died at age 39. “So we watched him slowly suffocate for five years,” says Ward.

Ben Goad reports in The Hill that OMB’s apparent willingness to move forward on the rule seemed to stall after trade groups lobbied on the issue:

By placing the item on its regulatory agenda in 2011, the administration signaled a willingness to move ahead with the rule. That year, at least 50 people from at least 35 organizations met with OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in nine disclosed meetings about the substance, disclosure records show.

More than a dozen trade groups and K Street shops reported lobbying on the issue in 2011.

The flurry of activity was followed by months of apparent inaction at OMB. It has since become a cause célèbre of pro-regulation groups and safety advocates, who have criticized the administration for slow-walking controversial regulations during Obama’s first term.

Some of the frustration was directed at former OIRA administrator Cass Sunstein, a devotee of cost-benefit analysis who served as regulatory gatekeeper until his departure from the administration in August.

Critics also questioned whether the delays were politically motivated.

Worker-health advocates weighed in with opinion pieces, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka with a Huffington Post piece “White House Inacation on Silica is Deadly for Workers” and National Council for Occupational Safety and Health executive director Tom O’Connor with the Charleston Gazette op-ed “Two years old, Silica Rule remains mired at OIRA.”

And at the Coshnet Blog, Dorry Samuels reports on recent research by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) that found “wet cutting” methods to reduce airborne crystalline silica concentrations by 85%.

In other news:

Charleston Gazette: After a series of recent mineworker deaths, West Virginia Governor Early Ray Tomblin ordered a “safety stand-down,” during which state mining operations would pause for a review of safety laws and best practices. The US Mine Safety and Health Administration announced a coordinated effort, but neither state nor federal officials proposed new inspections or enforcement efforts.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Following the death of 21-year-old Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis, a temporary worker who was crushed to death by a palletizer machine on his first day on the job in Jacksonville, OSHA has cited Bacardi Bottling Corp. for 12 alleged safety violations, two of them “willful.”

National Partnership for Women & Families (Paid Sick Days blog):  In Washington state, the House Labor and Workforce Development has approved two bills on paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance; Vermont’s legislature has introduced a paid sick days bill; and Philadelphia City Council members have introduced an earned sick days ordinance.

New York Times: Although drone pilots do their work miles away from battlefields, they experience PTSD and other mental-health problems at the same rate as pilots deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Defense Department study finds.

Reuters: NOAA researchers warn that as the planet’s climate gets hotter and wetter, people will have to limit outdoor work far more than they currently do in order to avoid heat stress.

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