National Public Radio broadcast a story on crystalline silica this morning, and we can take a wee bit of credit for it.
Crystalline silica is dangerous stuff – exposure to the very fine particles can severely scar the lungs. It’s a recognized human carcinogen. And it even seems to increase the risk of tuberculosis. The silica in your kid’s sandbox isn’t a hazard, because the particles are usually too large to get deep into the lungs. But it is a hazard when workers breathe the dust from cutting concrete or rock, making or breaking ceramics, or doing thousands of other jobs.
OSHA’s been trying to update the silica standards for years, a much needed task. The standard for construction work specify a monitoring method that has been obsolete for some thirty years. The standard for general industry is better, by a bit, but is still outdated. Unfortunately, the new draft standard, almost ready for release, has been held up in the Office of Management and Budget.
What’s our involvement? Janet is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Construction Committee. She worked with other committee members, including Steve Fess and Scott Schneider (both mentioned in NPR’s story) to prepare a letter, submitted by AIHA to OMB and the Department of Labor, urging OMB to release the proposed standard so it can receive public comment.
The standard-setting process is always slow. Sometimes, that’s for the best, as it allows time for input from all sides. But that input should come as part of the usual process of OSHA publishing a proposal and receiving comments. And sometimes, as with silica, that process slows down to subglacial speeds.
If you work with silica, or if your work produces airborne silica, don’t wait for a new standard to put control measures in place. Instead, use wet methods – a bit of water does a very good job of keeping the dust down. Or use ventilation systems. Or change your process or materials. We’ve known silica can rob people of their lungs for about 2500 years. It shouldn’t take another 2500 years to eliminate silicosis.