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OSHA proposes regulations for airborne silica dust

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Friday that it is proposing to create a rule for preventing silicosis by lowering workplace exposure to crystalline silica particles.

Silicosis is an incurable and progressive disease, while crystalline silica is a “deadly dust which needlessly kills hundreds of workers and sickens thousands more each year,” Dr. David Michaels, the Department of Labor’s assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, said Friday during a press conference to announce the rule proposal.

Exposure to airborne silica dust occurs in operations involving practices such as the cutting and crushing of concrete and stone products and in the use of sand such as for glass manufacturing, he said.

In addition to silicosis, exposure to silica is responsible for lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease, according to OSHA.

OSHA’s proposed rule would limit exposure to crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter in the workplace.

“This proposal is long overdue,” Dr. Michaels said. “OSHA’s current standards for protecting workers from (silica) exposure are dangerously out of date.”

OSHA is estimating that if adopted as a standard, its proposed rule would save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually.

Public hearings on OSHA’s proposal are scheduled to begin in Washington in early March, and Dr. Michaels said he hopes to hear from workers and employers with experience in protecting workers from silica.