A UAW panel will testify Wednesday at the U.S. Department of Labor in strong support of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed standard to protect workers from silica exposure.
The panel will include workers from facilities where occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica occurs daily. UAW members are exposed to silica in foundries, dental equipment manufacturing and water heater manufacturing. Silica dust is a killer. It causes silicosis, a disabling lung disease that literally suffocates workers to death. It causes lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and kidney disease as well.
If finalized, OSHA’s silica rule would help protect more than two million workers exposed to this deadly dust and save hundreds of workers lives each year. The current OSHA standard is based only on information that was available in 1968. 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.
In 1974, the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) recommended that OSHA reduce the Permissible Exposure Limit for respirable crystalline silica and promulgate a full silica standard. OSHA is finally following those recommendations. The proposed rule would cut permitted dust exposure levels in half, require exposure monitoring and medical exams for exposed workers and require the implementation of well-established dust control methods, such as the use of water and ventilation.
Workers exposed to silica dust will only be protected when a final rule is issued. The UAW urges the Obama administration to continue moving forward with the public rulemaking process without delay. The final silica rule should be issued as fast as possible, to protect the health and lives of American workers. UAW members who will testify include:
1. Robert Hitchcock (bargaining chair, UAW Local 211, Defiance, Ohio) will describe how his company, General Motors Co., already protects workers at the proposed standard 0.05 mg/m3 through new ventilation, preventive maintenance, air monitoring and, when needed, the use of air cooled respirators.
2. Richard Boecker (safety representative, UAW Local 211, Defiance, Ohio) will describe a model program of health surveillance already in place at his location because of a union contract. The air samples taken for members are completed by a union industrial hygiene technician.
3. Jeff P’Poole (president, UAW Local 523, Calvert City, Ky.) will describe the method for making silicon metal in one of the largest electric arc furnaces in the world. The smelting of silica to produce silcon metal generates dust and smoke so thick for some workers they cannot see.
4. Stan Burkeen (trustee, UAW Local 523, Calvert City, Ky.) will describe the health concerns for workers in the ferrosilicon industry.
5. Greg Essex (bargaining chair, UAW Local 226, Indianapolis) will discuss the health impacts due to exposure to foundry silica.
6. Rodney Graves (recording secretary, UAW Local 2317, Lafayette, Ind.) will describe the hazards faced by skilled trades workers who build and repair ovens using refractory brick and mineral fiber insulation material.
7. Andrew Mercer (recording secretary, UAW Local 8, Sparta, Mich.) will describe the hazards faced by workers in small foundries.
8. Shawn Ragle (UAW safety representative, Local 974, Mapleton, Ill.) will describe the ventilation needs in his foundry.
9. Matthew Wafford (committeeperson, UAW Local 2339, Rushville, Ind.) will talk about the needs of workers at his workplace for information on levels of silica exposure, respiratory health impacts of foundry air, and the need for more air monitoring.
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