Union chief: Silica delay ‘heartless’

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called out the White House on Wednesday for a delay in the development of a long-sought worker safety rule that he says is costing lives.

In the works for years, the proposal to set new limits on workers’ exposure to harmful silica has languished since February 2011 at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where officials say it is under review.

Meanwhile, said silica dust is responsible for hundreds of American deaths and thousands of illnesses every year, Trumka said in an opinion editorial published Wednesday on The Huffington Post website. 

“The delay in job safety protections for silica is inexcusable and heartless,” he wrote. “It’s time for industry opponents to stand down and time for the White House to stand up for working men and women. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Silica dust is commonly released at construction sites, shipyards and other workplaces where heavy machinery is used. It has been associated with numerous ailments, including lung cancer.

Some industry groups oppose new standards, arguing that current regulations are sufficient and that new ones will cost them billions of dollars annually and as many as 170,000 jobs over the next decade. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which submitted its draft rule to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) two years ago this Thursday, indicated only that the proposal carries an economic impact above $100 million. 

The rule is currently slated for release this spring, though it is unclear whether that deadline is realistic. A spokesman for OIRA said the office does not comment on rules under review. 

U.S. TRADE AND PATENT OFFICE. The U.S. Trade and Patent Office is implementing the final provisions of the America Invents Act that was signed into law two years ago.

In a 160-page document that will be published in Thursday’s Federal Register, the office responded to the more than 70 comments it received in the rulemaking process. In March and April, the “first inventor to file” and fee-setting provisions from the law will become active.

In January, representatives from several universities and university-based projects met with regulators to argue that the new regulations would shorten the “grace period” an inventor has to submit his or her idea for a patent after going public with it. In the Federal Register document, a discussion of grace periods only appears once and does not seem to address the concerns raised in the meeting.

The America Invents Act is the first sweeping reform of the patent system in six decades, notably changing the patent system from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system in an attempt to reduce litigation over patents.

The university and small-business communities have been skeptical that the rules do not favor larger corporations, which have greater manpower than researchers to file proposals first. 

CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued final rules on chemicals in children’s toys. Six types of phthalates, chemicals often used in the production of plastics and inks, are banned in parts of children’s toys that can be put in a child’s mouth. The rules clarify the parts of toys that can contain phthalates.

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION. The Department of Education finalized regulations that amend the way federal authorities can access information about children with disabilities who receive financial assistance from the government, streamlining parental consent requirements.