Help protect American workers from on-the-job silica exposure

schneiderGuest post by Scott Schneider, MS, CIH, Director of Occupational Safety and Health, Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America

Silica is not a new problem in the workplace. More than 80 years ago hundreds of workers died from acute silicosis digging the Gauley Bridge tunnel in West Virginia. Congressional hearings were held and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins held an investigation and declared that it was our duty to eliminate silicosis from the workplace. In the 1970’s the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed recommendations to reduce exposures to silica in the workplace yet it wasn’t until the 1990s when OSHA began to take action. The initiated a rule to reduce silica exposures and kicked off a campaign (”It’s Not Just Dust”) to increase awareness of the problem.

Over the years we have learned even more about the dangers of silica. Overexposure to silica not only causes silicosis, an irreversible, progressive lung disease, it is also associated with lung cancer, chronic renal disease and autoimmune disorders. An estimated 1.7 million U.S. workers are still exposed to this serious hazard. Public health experts estimate that 280 workers die each year from silicosis and thousands more develop silicosis as a result of workplace exposures

After many years work and delays OSHA finally sent a draft silica standard to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in February 2011. OMB normally has 90 days to review a proposed regulation. As of next month, it will have held onto this proposal for two years. Each year of delay means additional thousands of workers will be exposed and at risk of illness or death.

Releasing the proposal and publishing it in the Federal Register is just the start of a very public process which includes OSHA public hearings and comment periods. The White House needs to release this standard for publication so OSHA can proceed with a rulemaking. Lives are at stake.

You can help by signing a petition on the White House Web site. The petition requires 25,000 signatures by February 11 to elicit a formal response from the White House. Please add your signature today to help us take this next step towards protecting workers from this serious hazard.

This Week in Consumer Policy

By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

Recent weeks have been historic ones for consumers from a public policy perspective.  On Wednesday, June 20, President Obama signed in to law two pieces of legislation designed to protect consumers from predatory lending in the housing market – the Helping Families Save their Home Act and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act.   Scarcely 48 hours later, the President signed an even more far-reaching piece of pro-consumer legislation, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (CARD Act).  NCL was at the White House to witness history and celebrate these hard-won victories.   After nearly a decade of playing defense on consumer protection in Washington, it seems like the pendulum is finally swinging back in consumers’ favor.

As the nation’s oldest consumer organization, we’ve seen our fair share of the daily back-and-forth that characterizes the way that public policy is crafted in Washington.  To outsiders, the process can often seem mind-numbingly confusing in its complexity.  To address this issue, we’d like to occasionally highlight the most important consumer issues bubbling up here in Washington and attempt to explain how they can affect consumers.

The legislation noted above is hugely significant, making consumers better off than they were before these laws went into effect.  However, there is much work to be done.  This week, Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess to face a host of consumer issues.   Highlights include:

  • FTC Business Opportunity Rule Workshop – Monday, June 1, 9:00 AM – The day-long public workshop will explore proposed changes to the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule, requiring that companies selling business opportunities (such as franchises)  provide a one-page Business Opportunity Disclosure Form to prospective purchasers.   Information to help consumers and businesses avoid business opportunity fraud is available from the FTC by clicking here.
  • Legislative hearing on the discussion draft of the Food Safety and Enhancement Act of 2009Wednesday, June 3 , 10:00 AM –  Coming on the heels of the a rash of food safety scare involving salmonella in peanut products, melamine in milk, and E coli in spinach, this bill would increase the oversight authority of the Food and Drug Administration and give the agency additional resources to carry out this increased oversight role (click here for a bill summary and click here for additional analysis from The Washington Post).  Health Subcommittee of House Energy and Commerce Committee, 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.
  • FCC Open Commission Meeting Focuses on DTV TransitionWednesday, June 3, 9:30 AM – The FCC’s meeting will include presentations by the agency, industry, and consumer groups involved in the DTV transition.  In February, NCL supported the DTV Delay Act, which moved the deadline for analog-broadcast shutoff to June 12.  NCL is a member of the DTV Transition Coalition.
  • Senate Commerce Committee Hearing:GM And Chrysler Dealership Closures: Protecting Dealers And Consumers” – Wednesday, June 3, 2:30 PM – The announced closure of more than 4,300 Chrylser and GM dealerships over the next two years will have a big impact on local communities, jobs, and broadcast and print journalism (dealers are among the largest local advertisers).  In addition, millions of Chrysler and GM cars currently on the road will continue to need to be serviced.  These closures will have an impact on consumers looking to these dealerships for that service. Click here for additional information.

As you can see, this week is shaping up to be a busy one for consumer advocates!  If you know of an event that we missed, please feel free to email me at johnb@nclnet.org.