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OSHA wins court battle over silica rule

More than two million workers in Virginia and around the country have jobs that expose them to airborne silica. In March 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration published an update to its rule on silica that reduced permissible levels to 50 micrograms for every cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period. Workplace safety advocates welcomed the updated OSHA rule as it halved the amount of silica permissible in most industries and reduced it by 80 percent in the construction sector, but the announcement was widely criticized by trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A coalition of industry groups filed a lawsuit challenging the revised OSHA silica rule in March 2017. The plaintiffs questioned the evidence linking silica exposure at the prior levels with serious medical issues, and they also claimed that meeting the new standard would not be feasible for businesses sectors such as construction and hydraulic fracturing. In addition to disputing the need for and viability of the revised rule, the lawsuit alleged that OSHA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by publishing it.

After hearing these arguments on Dec. 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the industry challenges to the rule and ordered OSHA to explain why certain medical removal provisions had not been included. Labor unions had objected to OSHA's omission of provisions that allow doctors to order workers removed from workplace conditions they deem detrimental to their health.

Workers who become sick after being exposed to toxic substances while on the job sometimes face challenges from their employers when they file workers' compensation claims. Companies may argue that illnesses are not work-related to avoid a large number of similar claims. Attorneys with experience in this area may help sick workers in this situation by advocating on their behalf during workers' compensation hearings.

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