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Senator Blumenthal raises new hope for the silica rule’s enactment to save workers lives

By Siya Hegde

Last week, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) spearheaded the first ever public hearing on the delays curtailing regulatory policy. At the top of the committee agenda was a discussion of worker safety and health that highlighted the long-delayed silica rule.

Public Citizen and other workplace health and safety advocates have been awaiting the completion of the crystalline silica rule since 2011.

In the meantime, workers continue to be exposed to the harmful effects of crystalline silica, especially in the construction and manufacturing industries where silica exposure is widespread. Leading health experts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that worker exposure to crystalline silica dust in these industries can result in silicosis, lung cancer, and other chronic auto-immune diseases. In fact, such long-term illnesses are so common among workers that thousands of cases remain unreported.

For too long discussion of the silica rule has taken a back seat on Capitol Hill; but thanks to Senator Blumenthal, the public is finally being given an opportunity to let our political leaders know that they think that workers’ health and safety should be a top priority. The economic and human costs of the silica rule’s delay are undeniable. The public supports life-saving measures like the silica rule, and with the leadership of Sen. Blumenthal the public’s will is one step closer to reality.

In his closing remarks, Sen. Blumenthal said that he hopes to further explore the consequences of delay in workplace safety policies, and he requested that the witnesses provide a list of other delayed standards, like the silica rule, that need to be assessed more closely. We applaud his diligence.

With workers lives on the line we cannot continue to allow lethargy in our regulatory agencies to delay the silica rule and other important policies any longer.

The clock on worker’s lives is ticking.

Siya Hegde is a workplace health and safety intern with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.