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OSHA slow to address toxins at Michigan construction sites

Two toxins common to construction sites, factories, foundries, mines and quarries still are not regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Silica and beryllium are found in the dust of coal, rocks, metals and soils, and are classified as known carcinogens.

They cause bricklayers and sandblasters in Michigan to have permanent disabilities including abnormal lung sounds, lung scars and decreased pulmonary function. Long-term exposure to breathing beryllium and silica particles causes coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss or loss of appetite, fever and sweating.

The symptoms and knowledge of what causes them have been around since ancient Roman and Greek stone cutters reported respiratory problems. Even the U.S. Department of Labor produced a film in 1938 called "Stop Silicosis." Yet, we still do not have national safety standards in place to protect workers from exposure to these toxins.

The last known exposure limits were set in the early 1970s. They are outdated and not enforced. While OSHA has updated some standards and technical amendments for asbestos and the logging industry, it has not regulated chemicals in the workplace for decades.

Red tape, regulatory bottlenecks, review boards and industry lobbyists have delayed the adopting of new worker health and safety rules. After OSHA, new standards have to go through the Department of Labor, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Once new standards are set in place, companies in the silica and beryllium industries would have to provide respirators, health screens, exposure assessments and dust-control equipment to their employees.

If you were exposed to beryllium in the workplace or lived near a worksite that used silica or beryllium, you have important legal rights. Workers exposed in the workplace may have workers' compensation rights as well as the ability to sue their employer and third parties for their injuries.

Source: iwatchnews.org, "OSHA rules on workplace toxics stalled," Jim Morris, June 4, 2012

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