By: Amit Narang and Keith Wrightson
Two years ago today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) submitted a proposal to update the standard that protects workers from exposure to crystalline silica dust. The proposal was submitted to a small office within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Although the review should have concluded after 90 days, two years later the proposal still remains under review, leaving the public in the dark as to how strong the new standard will be, much less when it will finally come into effect.
While the standard remains tied up at the White House, leading scientists are convinced that OSHA’s current silica dust standard, which was issued in 1971, is leaving workers to be exposed to crystalline silica levels far exceeding those considered safe.
Over 1.7 million workers are exposed to potentially hazardous levels of silica dust, mostly in the construction, hydraulic fracking and sandblasting industries. Inhaling the dust causes lung cancer and silicosis, a debilitating lung disease. Silicosis also puts an increased strain on the heart and increases the risk of heart failure.
OSHA estimates that silicosis contributed to, or caused the deaths of 200 to 300 workers per year from 1990 to 1996 and says that many more silicosis-related deaths have gone undetected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says silicosis kills more than 200 workers per year and disables hundreds more, claiming more than 14,000 lives since 1968.
This sad tale of the badly delayed silica rule is one of the strongest examples of how the obscure but powerful OIRA works against protecting the public. Even worse, the silica rule is only one of many regulatory standards that have been held up over the years at OIRA. Not only are these crucial public protections delayed at OIRA, but OIRA is never required to disclose the reasons for the delay, making it all too easy for OIRA to “sit” on the silica rule, and any other major public health and safety standards, without answering to anyone. This is exactly the wrong way for our government to operate when charged with protecting the public from very real dangers.
Having OIRA make the silica standard available to the public two years after it was submitted by OSHA would be a welcome development, even though the final enactment of the standard will still likely be years away. Beyond this specific rule, basic reforms to OIRA are equally pressing to bring much-needed transparency and accountability to what can only be described right now as a “regulatory black hole.”
For more information visit: http://bit.ly/CSSsil
To take action go to: http://www.citizen.org/silica-dust-white-house-oira-action
Amit Narang is Public Citizen’s regulatory policy advocate. Keith Wrightson is Public Citizen’s workplace safety expert. Keep up with Public Citizen’s workplace health and safety work by following @SafeWorkers on Twitter and this particular issue by following #silica.