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June 2016

Spotlight on Safety
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Debilitating and Deadly. Is This Material in Your Workplace?

Silica has been around since the dawn of civilization and its dangers have been known since at least the days of the New Deal. In fact, President Roosevelt's labor secretary called it a deadly hazard. Now, four decades after the first regulation, there is a new rule to protect working men and women from its debilitating — and potentially deadly — effects.

"This is good news, not just for our members who work around silica, but for their families too," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "This is a rule that will save lives."

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a rule on March 25 that limits exposure to respirable crystalline silica, a substance commonly found at a multitude of worksites. The rule creates two standards, one for the construction industry and one for the maritime and general industry. Both standards require a reduction of the permissible exposure limit to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift. The previous standard for construction sites was five times that, with a cap of 250 micrograms.

The rule also requires employers to implement dust controls, like using water to dampen the silica and installing better ventilation. Additionally, employers must offer respirators and medical exams and limit access to high exposure areas.

Silica is found in a number of places, particularly in rocks and sand. OSHA says it is typically 100 times smaller than sand found on beaches, if not more, and is generated by high-energy operations including cutting, sawing, grinding and crushing stone, or when using industrial sand. Sawing brick, blasting with sand, drilling into concrete walls, grinding mortar, crushing stone or manufacturing brick, concrete or ceramics can all generate this respirable dust. As such, industries from construction to railroads to foundries and glass manufacturing are affected.

When inhaled, it can penetrate deep into a person's lungs and cause silicosis, an incurable and potentially fatal disease. Silica exposure can also cause lung cancer, respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease. The World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health designate it as a known human carcinogen.

OSHA estimates that more than 2 million working men and women are exposed to silica in their workplaces. The majority, 1.85 million, are in the construction industry. This new rule is expected to save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis a year.

The last time a rule on silica was issued was in 1971, when OSHA was created. Even then, officials knew from existing research that it wasn't strong enough.

"We've known for over 40 years that it needed to be strengthened, and it has taken 40 years to strengthen it," Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told NPR. "Many people who are going to work right now and breathing unacceptable levels of silica dust are in for a brighter future."

IBEW Director of Safety Dave Mullen says that the IBEW has been pushing for this rule.

"We've been working with other building trades, writing letters to President Obama, doing whatever we could to get the rule finalized," Mullen said. "We're pleased to see that it's out, and not a day too soon."

Both standards will take effect on June 23. Industries will then have one to five years to comply with most of the requirements. For construction, they will need to be in full compliance by June 23, 2017. For general industry and maritime, there is an extra year, with a deadline of June 23, 2018.

OSHA calculates the cost to employers to be about $1 billion. When the benefits, of reduced mortality and disease among others, are factored in though, OSHA estimates a net benefit of approximately $4 to $8 billion.

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After decades in the making, OSHA has issued a new rule to increase protections from silica, a commonly found substance with potentially deadly consequences.

Georgia Moves to Protect Utility Workers on Roadways

It should be second nature to motorists: if you see flashing lights on the side of the road, slow down, move over and give emergency personnel a wide berth to safely do their jobs. In all 50 states and in every Canadian province, it's also the law.

The so-called "move over" laws have for years applied to police, fire and ambulance services, and in many states and provinces they've expanded to include tow-truck operators and garbage collectors as well. But until now, utility workers operating close to the roadway have enjoyed such protections in just three states: Tennessee, North Carolina and Indiana.

On April 19, the tiny club expanded to four when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 767 into law at an event marking Lineman Appreciation Month.

"Adding utility workers to Georgia's move over law is an important recognition of the dangerous nature of the work our men and women do out there on the roads every day," said Atlanta Local 84 Business Manager Larry Rooks, who represents linemen at the state's largest utility, Georgia Power. "Our members work in the dark and in the rain and ice, and it's important that drivers give these guys room to do their jobs. We appreciate the legislature making this change and recognizing the value of the work we do."

In April 2015, three Georgia linemen were killed across the border in Florida when a driver careened off the road and into the crew, which was installing new electrical poles at the time.

"This kind of tragedy is never 100 percent preventable," said IBEW Director of Safety David Mullen, "but taking steps to get drivers to slow down and give room to work crews is just common sense. It's the kind of easy change that we hope will be made in every state and provincial capital in the U.S. and Canada."

Georgia's new law requires drivers approaching flashing lights or traffic cones to slow down and vacate the lane nearest to the emergency personnel or workers. If no lane is available, drivers are required to reduce their speed below the posted limit and be prepared to stop if necessary. Violators face a $250 fine.

Paul Bowers, CEO of Georgia Power, thanked the governor for his recognition of the work of line crews, saying, "Safety is our top priority in everything we do, and we would like to thank the governor and the members of the legislature for passing this important legislation that will keep our workers safe in the field."

The move over law takes effect on July 1.


Linemen operating near roadways will be safer thanks to a new Georgia law.