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OSHA’s Negligence Has Resulted in Silicosis Outbreak Among American Workers

The silicosis outbreak highlights that OSHA’s negligence has resulted in the death of American workers. Across the U.S., workers are suffering and sometimes even dying due to the severe lung disease – known as silicosis. Whereas OHSA is liable for protecting these workers from the exposure of engineered stone dust, that causes silicosis.

Silica dust exposure may cause severe silicosis

The workers suffering from silicosis are responsible for cutting and fabricating engineered stone countertops for bathrooms and kitchens. Whereas, a quartz-based composite product is used to make these countertops. That makes the countertops look like granite or marble.

The cutting or polishing of this material may release silica dust. That can cause serious lung disease and cancer. But right now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) isn’t taking any step to prevent this silicosis outbreak.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 18 cases of severe silicosis. The report has also stated two deaths among workers producing these countertops. Among the affected individuals 16 are Hispanic and the remaining are non-Hispanic African-Americans.

Silica dust destroys breathing ability. So, dozens of workers in Israel, Spain, and elsewhere are waiting for lung transplants. The only reason why the U.S. doesn’t have many cases of silicosis is that no one has looked for them.

The sudden appearance of the cases isn’t the most shocking thing about this silicosis outbreak in the U.S., as they were predictable. Instead, the most alarming aspect is that Trump administration hasn’t done anything to stop them. Though, the OSHA was fully aware of their coming.

Related: New York City Declares Health Emergency After Measles Outbreak

OSHA’s withdrawal on silica inspection is a deeper problem

David Michaels was the assistant secretary of the labor from 2009 – 2017. According to him, even at that time, the OSHA’s old workplace standard for silica exposure was out of date for preventing silicosis.

So, the agency issued a strengthened silica exposure standard that was much effective in reducing the dust levels allowed in the breathing zone of a worker. This standard also includes medical monitoring by the employer to detect silicosis and other diseases before they become disabling.

On the contrary, this standard didn’t go into effect until after the Trump administration took over. Preventing silicosis was always an OSHA priority. But the Trump administration has abandoned the special enforcement initiative after the new standard came into effect.

Moreover now, the administration plans to issue a new standard. OSHA can’t insect a workplace without a formal initiative until a worker complains. Many of the workers in such dangerous jobs fear getting fired or worse.

So, currently, the agency cannot inspect workshops where workers have exposure to silica dust and developing silicosis. The OSHA’s withdrawal on silica inspection represents a deeper problem, as the agency is suffering from fatal neglect under the Trump administration.

Currently, OSHA has conducted a near-record low number of inspections that target health hazards like silica. Moreover, it also has fewer inspectors compared to any time in the agency’s history. And with the current staff level, it requires 165 years by the agency to visit every workplace in the country.

Thousands of workers get sick by silica exposure and other toxic substances, but the number isn’t known because there is no national registry of work-related diseases.

 

 

Bo Walkden

Bo Walkden graduated from the University of Tennessee with a major in biology and a minor in Sociology. Bo grew up in Nashville but moved to Memphis for college. Bo has written for several major publications including the Knoxville News Sentinel and NPR. Bo is a community reporter and also covers stories important to all Americans. Contact Email: bo@tophealthjournal.com. Phone: 720.213.5824

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