Union chief: White House delay on silica rule ‘inexcusable, 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 editorialpublished Wednesday on The Huffington Post web site.

“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 new ones them billions of dollars annually and as much 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.