A proposal submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget by OSHA to update the standard that protects workers from exposure to crystalline silica dust has languished there for a year, even though the review should have taken 45 days.
Public Citizen is calling for action on the proposal, claiming that 2 million workers are exposed to potentially hazardous levels of silica dust, mostly in the construction and sandblasting industries. Inhaling the dust can cause lung cancer and silicosis, a debilitating lung disease. OSHAâ€™s current silica dust rule, issued in 1971, allows workers to be exposed at levels far exceeding those now considered safe.
â€śOMB is holding these rules up for reasons that mostly are political,â€ť said Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizenâ€™s Congress Watch division. â€śAlthough President Barack Obama called for transparency and public participation in government, OMB is not allowing the public comment period to begin and instead has held nine closed-door meetings, mostly with industry lobbyists who want nothing more than to kill the rule.â€ť
Added Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate with Public Citizenâ€™s Congress Watch division, â€śUnfortunately, OMBâ€™s apparent resistance to this rule has made a bad situation even worse. Given the excessive importance that OMB places on cost-benefit analysis, itâ€™s disappointing to see officials ignore the real, everyday costs to workersâ€™ health that has resulted from its delay of this important, new silica standard.â€ť
According to OSHAâ€™s risk assessment, the silica dust rule could have prevented 60 worker deaths and 2,400 cases of silicosis in the last year. Public Citizen is requesting that OMB step up the pace and move quickly to finish its review and initiate a public comment period.