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MSHA News Release No. 97-1031
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Amy Louviere
Phone: (703) 787-6879

Friday, October 31, 1997

LABOR DEPARTMENT RENEWS PUSH TO ELIMINATE SILICOSIS
Marks One Year Anniversary of Campaign

With the help of 60 industry, labor, government and professional organizations, the U.S. Labor Department aims in the next six months to put new informational materials on preventing silicosis into the hands of 250,000 American workers at risk for this serious lung disease.

The planned educational push continues a national campaign to eliminate silicosis launched one year ago by the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Lung Association®.

"Each year, more than 250 American workers die with silicosis," said Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman. "There is no cure for silicosis, but it is 100 percent preventable. We need to reach out to workers who may be at risk with information on how to prevent this lung disease. Employers will be advised on how to take appropriate action to eliminate the hazard. "

Herman said that the campaign's co-sponsors will ask 60 organizations that participated in a national "best practices" conference on silicosis prevention earlier this year to help distribute new pocket cards for high-risk occupations, booklets in both English and Spanish, information on best practices, and other educational materials. In the next six months, plans call for reaching at least 250,000 workers in construction, mining and other industries who may be at risk for silicosis with specific information that can help workers take steps to protect themselves from this serious disease.

Additional plans for the silicosis campaign's second year include:

-- Developing a system to identify and evaluate "best practices" observed during OSHA and MSHA inspections with the goal of sharing them with others;

-- Starting work on a new comprehensive OSHA standard for occupational exposure to silica.

-- Continuing to conduct inspections in industries and occupations at high risk of silicosis;

-- Pilot testing a NIOSH-funded model training program for workers performing abrasive blasting; and

-- Conducting x-ray screening for 600 surface coal miners in Wyoming and West Virginia.

Silicosis is a disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by overexposure to silica dust. More than 1 million workers across the country are exposed to dust containing silica—a major component of sand, rock and mineral ores. Activities such as sandblasting, jack hammering, drilling or cutting through sandstone or granite, manufacturing glass, and working in foundries pose the greatest potential risk to workers.

"It is important that we continue our efforts and enlist new partners in this historic campaign to inform employers and workers about the risk of silicosis, provide appropriate technical assistance, and find new ways to prevent this all too well-known disease," said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H.

Renewing the ALA's commitment to the National Campaign to Eliminate Silicosis, ALA past president and spokesman Dr. Alfred Munzer, M.D., said, "The vision of the American Lung Association is a world free of lung disease. The elimination of occupational lung disease is an essential component of that vision. Silicosis is a terrible disease that robs people of their breath and eventually leads to their death."

The national campaign to eliminate silicosis was launched October 31, 1996 with the theme "If It's Silica, It's Not Just Dust." Earlier this year, MSHA, NIOSH, OSHA and the American Lung Association, with support from 60 other organizations, hosted a national "best practices" conference on silicosis prevention which drew more than 600 participants from 40 States and five foreign countries. Other silicosis prevention activities in the campaign's first year have included:

-- Conducting more than 650 inspections in general industry and construction that resulted in citations for more than 1,650 silica-related violations, with penalties totaling almost $1.3 million.

-- Inspecting the 650 surface coal mines in the country during five days in April to ensure miners are protected during drilling operations;

-- Screening more than 1,700 surface coal miners in Pennsylvania; and screening construction workers in the Cleveland, Ohio, area;

-- Working to develop a silica monitor for on-site analysis of silica samples;

-- Sponsoring training and loaning air sampling equipment to small stone operations so companies can monitor their workers' exposure to silica and noise;

-- Completing NIOSH-funded lab and field tests on safer substitutes for silica in abrasive blasting;

-- Conducting 20 "best practices" workshops for more than 700 miners and employers in small communities across the country; and

-- Collaborating with a trade association to produce the first in a series of training videos.

Workers and employers can get a package of free materials on how to prevent silicosis by calling the NIOSH toll-free telephone information service at 1-800-35-NIOSH.

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