When it comes to industrial or occupational diseases, the relevant question to ask is who has a choice. The employer often has superior knowledge about a process, chemical or mineral. As in the case of asbestos, mining companies and processors noticed early on that workers died of specific medical conditions after being exposed to the mineral dust.
Yet it would be most of the last century before those risks would be shared with employees and government regulations would be created that would attempt to protect workers from the harmful effects of this mineral.
This has also been true of silica dust, which has been a concern since the 1930s. Exposure to the dust can lead to deadly silicoses. The current standards have been in place since the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) was created in 1970, and they have never been updated.
This is not an accident. Industries that use crystalline silica, namely the oil extraction business with their need for fracking sand, are not interested in better protection for workers, have opposed increasing the standards.
They claim the proposed regulations are not based on “sound science.” This is in spite of research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that point to the risk of disease caused by silica dust exposure.
They don’t want to improve worker protection because it will cost money. They apparently believe that it is better for thousands of workers to suffer long-term damage and develop an incurable disease.
Congress has shown who they support by adding a rider to a current budget bill that would prohibit the enforcement of the new regulations. Workers must feel relieved to know that their elected representatives have their back, or in this case, their lungs.
Source: inthesetimes.com, “ Deadly Silica Dust for First Time in More Than 40 Years,” Elizabeth Grossman, December 15, 2015