GOP Inserts Silica Standard Delay Into Labor Dept. Money Bill

By voice vote, the Republican-run Senate Appropriations Committee last month inserted a 1-year delay in the federal efforts to cut workers’ exposure to silica dust. The move is in the money bill for the Labor Department for the year starting Oct. 1.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., inserted the delay into the mammoth funding bill. He also gives the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) $800,000 in that fiscal year for another study of silica’s impact when workers breathe it. Silica causes lung disease. 

But this study, Hoeven orders, must also cover “ability of regulated industries to comply with occupational exposure limits” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposes. And NIOSH must include the costs of purchasing respirators for workers as well as the costs of engineering – water for dust control and ventilation -- to cut overall silica exposure.

After years of study and years of complaints from workers and unions, OSHA finally proposed, in 2013, to cut silica exposure in half, pleasing AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

He said it would protect at least 2 million workers in construction, shipyards and oil and gas drilling and save hundreds of lives. OSHA took 16 years to develop the new rule, he noted.

“Silica dust is a killer. It causes silicosis, a disabling lung disease that literally suffocates workers to death. It also causes lung cancer and other diseases,” Trumka said then. “The current OSHA silica standard was adopted decades ago and fails to protect workers. It allows very high levels of exposure and has no requirements to train workers or monitor exposure levels. Simply enforcing the current rule, as some in industry have called for, won’t protect workers. This new standard will.”