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OSHA National News Release
U.S. Department of Labor
News Release USDL: 97-104
Tuesday, March 25, 1997
Contact: Frank Kane (OSHA), (202) 219-8151
Contact: Amy Louviere (MSHA), (703) 235-1452
Conference Highlights Partnerships, Approaches For Protecting Workers From Silicosis
More than 500 industry, labor, government, and health representatives assembled today to open a two-day conference in Washington, D.C., to share practical solutions for preventing silicosis -- a disabling and sometimes fatal work-related lung disease caused by overexposure to silica dust.
More than 1 million workers are employed in jobs where they are exposed to silica exposure, with 100,000 of them at high risk of developing the disease. More than 250 workers die with silicosis annually.
The conference, which features presentations and discussions on approaches that are being used effectively at job sites around the United States, is sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Lung Association.
"When you consider that silicosis was identified 2,000 years ago, our mission truly becomes more than just a public policy initiative...or a workplace issue that needs to be addressed," said Acting Secretary of Labor Cynthia A. Metzler, the keynote speaker today. "Solving this problem is nothing short of a moral imperative."
NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H., said, "This national conference represents a significant step in the long effort to eradicate silicosis. It provides a critical link between those who have already made notable inroads against silicosis in their workplaces, and others who can learn from those accomplishments to score similar successes in other mines, construction sites, and foundries."
During the conference, speakers from business and labor organizations, companies, agencies, and occupational health programs will address key practices for effective worker protection, including practical engineering controls used in a wide range of workplaces. Speakers will also address selection and use of appropriate respiratory protection; educating employers and workers to recognize and address potential silicosis risks; and using medical monitoring to identify employees at potential risk in time to prevent serious health effects.
Speakers also will discuss current programs that have had proven success in protecting workers in construction, mining, and other industries, and the key elements that make those programs work.
"OSHA is fully committed to this battle to end silicosis," said Gregory R. Watchman, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "Our national special emphasis program on silicosis includes both outreach activities to encourage voluntary efforts as well as enforcement of OSHA standards. OSHA has already conducted more than 300 silicosis inspections."
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is working to educate the entire mining community on the silicosis hazard, on mine operators' responsibilities, and on best practices to prevent the lung disease, said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "This conference creates a tremendous opportunity to share information on silicosis prevention from industry to industry," McAteer said. "Silicosis has been recognized as a mining hazard for hundreds of years. The mining industry has answers to offer others, as well as opportunities to gain from other industries' experience."
The conference features 20 problem-solving workshops on preventing silicosis in specific industries and job operations, plenary sessions with senior government, corporate and labor officials, and opportunities to meet with safety and health professionals who have implemented successful prevention strategies.
"Workers and employers who are concerned about exposure to silica dust can take preventive measures to reduce the risk of developing lung disease," said Thomas F. Gibson, president of the American Lung Association. "These measures range from the simple act of quitting smoking to incorporating inexpensive technology to control silica dust exposure."
Occupations at high risk of silica dust exposure include construction workers who sandblast or cut, grind or break concrete, miners, foundry workers, workers who lay and maintain railroad track and workers who manufacture glass, ceramics, abrasives or soaps.
Note to editors:
Assistant Secretaries Watchman and McAteer and Dr. Rosenstock, director of NIOSH, will be available to news media from 10:30 until noon Tuesday, March 26, in the East Room at the Mayflower. Another media availability session for other speakers and workshop leaders will be held Wednesday from 9:15 to 10 a.m. in the East Room. The conference press room will be in the Delaware Room.)
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