Workers advocates in the United States have been waiting since the George W. Bush administration for stricter standards on one of the world’s oldest known workplace dangers. Ancient Greek stone cutters knew about the risks they faced breathing in sand or rock dust. Today, almost two million Americans work in jobs that expose them to silica, which often results in silicosis, lung cancer or other serious respiratory illnesses.
Most of the information and prevention measures from this 1938 U.S. Department of Labor film on preventing silicosis are still relevant today.
Laws setting limits on how much silica workers may inhale are out of date, according to workplace safety experts. Workers’ advocates want the limits cut in half, but manufacturers and their lobbying organizations disagree. No surprise.
On Valentine’s Day 2011, OSHA sent a proposal for new silica exposure rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB was supposed to take 90 days to review the proposal. And yet, there sits the proposal, still at the OMB, two years later as Valentine’s Day 2013 approaches.
We agree with the director of safety and health for the AFL-CIO. Peg Seminario said, There has been incredible delay, inexcusable delay, on protecting workers against silica exposures. Seminario says the AFL-CIO and other workers’ groups thought they saw potential for movement during the George W. Bush administration and then grew hopeful under the Obama administration but no action has yet occurred.
Sixty workers a year die from silicosis, according to the government’s own estimates of work-related deaths. And thousands of people are newly diagnosed with silicosis or silica-related lung cancer every year. These workers can file workers’ compensation claims, of course, unless they are independent contractors. But even a successful workers’ compensation claim is small consolation for a stone worker who contracts a serious, often fatal, disease like silicosis.
During difficult economic times, workers often keep quiet about unsafe working conditions for fear of losing their jobs. During times like these, the government’s role as watchdog and protector of workers’ health and safety is even more important. The personal injury team at Bailey & Galyen call on the current administration to move forward these proposed new rules at a quicker pace.
If you or someone you know works with stone and is suffering respiratory illness, the most important step is to get high-quality medical care. If you then need help with a claim against the employer, Bailey & Galyen can help. We also encourage you to contact us if you know of an employer that might be violating the government’s existing limits on silica exposure.