April 8, 2014 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 1Comment

The photos rolled across the screen. Photos of  construction workers tuck-pointing the cement grout on a building, sawing brick, jack hammering a sidewalk, sanding drywall. Each photo, showing workers in clouds of dust, illustrated the multitude of ways they are exposed, and why they are at risk of silica-related diseases.  

The scrolling photo exhibit was the backdrop for testimony provided by representatives of the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) on the final day of OSHA’s public hearing on its proposed silica regulation. The LHSFNA is a joint labor-management trust fund affiliated with the Laborers’ International Union of North America. The fund was created 26 years ago to help signatory contractors improve health and safety practices at their construction sites.

Associate director of the LHSFN, Walter Jones, offered his organization’s reaction to testimony provided by other witnesses in the previous 14 days of the proceedings. Specifically, he commented on the recommendations that OSHA revise its proposal to simply require employers to provide respirators to workers, rather than expecting them to control silica dust at its source. Jones remarked:

“The proposal is a technology -forcing standard without which we would be stuck listening to the flat-earthers tell us that the hierarchy of controls is outdated and the future of worker health is with respirators.”

“Our brothers and sisters on the environmental side …did not have to ask Americans to wear respirators because it was infeasible for industry to remove lead from gasoline and because it would cost America jobs. Instead, they fought to have lead removed from gasoline, which became one of the greatest public health successes of our lifetime.”

Also appearing in the final week of the public hearing were representatives of the American Petroleum Institute (API). The oil and gas industry’s trade association provided comment on OSHA’s proposal with respect to hydraulic fracturing. Certain steps in the fracking process require large quantities of silica sand. Lizzie Grossman has reported previously (here, here) on workers high exposures to respirable silica at these extraction operations.

API  argued that employers involved in fracking will be “profoundly impacted” by OSHA’s rule should it be adopted. They suggested that OSHA has not adequately assessed the proposal’s feasibility for their industry. They asserted that OSHA’s decisions to include fracking in the proposal was a second thought. One API representative offered faint praise to the OSHA staff, saying they

“were clearly asked to do an analysis quickly [on the fracking industry] to append to their preliminary regulatory impact analysis.”

The oil and gas industry reps, however acknowledged that some firms were using misting systems and special bagging technology to reduce dust exposure.  This suggests to me that feasible controls exist for the industry to adopt.  Feasibility is a key requirement in OSHA’s statute with respect to promulgating a worker health or safety standard.

Other witnesses during the final week included the Int’l Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, the Mason Contractors Association of America, the Brick Industry Association (again), the National Association of Home Builders, the Tile Council of North America, and the Collegium Ramazzini.

OSHA now has a large docket filled with comments, data, reports and testimony received as part of this public process. Now the staff will use that information to develop a final rule, which may be different than what was proposed. After observing the OSHA staff who engaged in the public hearing process, I’ve no doubt they are up to the task of developing a final silica rule. They’ll succeed, and workers will get a much-needed silica regulation, if Congress and the White House don’t stand in their way.

One thought on “Pictures say a thousand words: OSHA Silica Hearings week #3

  1. James Shultz of Wisconsin COSH also showed some alarming photos taken recently in a foundry. The dust in the air was so thick I couldn’t even see the machinery. It was a compelling case for why the new OSHA regs are needed!

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