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OSHA’s silica rule upheld by D.C. Court of Appeals

Description: On December 22, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Obama-era rule protecting workers from exposure to silica dust. In its decision, the court wrote that, “Exposure to silica is one of the oldest known occupational hazards. And the health effects of exposure to silica—most commonly silicosis, a progressive and irreversible lung disease caused by the inflammatory effects of silica—are not a thing of the past. Currently, silicosis is the most prevalent chronic occupational disease in the world.”

Industry groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, challenged many aspects of the rule, including the medical evidence OSHA relied on in promulgating the rule to the feasibility of OSHA’s requirements for preventing workers from silica exposure.  The court rejected all of those challenges and upheld the rule’s protections for workers.

Earlier in 2017, while this case was pending, OSHA announced after significant delays that it would begin enforcing most provisions of the silica rule’s standard for construction on September 23, 2017, and will begin enforcing most provisions of the standard for general industry and maritime on June 23, 2018. Now that the DC Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the rule, there should be no future barriers to OSHA’s ability to enforce this important worker protection regulation.

Fair Economy Impact:  OSHA issued this rule to reduce workers’ exposure to cancer-causing respirable crystalline silica.  Studies have linked exposure to silica to lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease. About 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone. Responsible employers have been protecting workers from harmful exposure to silica for years, using widely-available equipment that controls silica dust with a simple water spray to wet the dust down, or a vacuum system to contain the dust. OSHA estimates that the rule will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year, once its effects are fully realized. It is past time for the Trump administration to start taking workers’ sides by enforcing this rule to protect working people’s lives and livelihoods.