During his final year in office, President Obama is expected to usher in some major new regulations, including rules regarding worker safety, health and the environment.

Silica rule

After years of development and debate, a rule to protect workers from silica dust is undergoing a final review by the Office of Management and Budget. Depending upon the outcome of that review, the silica rule could become a reality early in 2016.

Exposure to silica dust is common in the construction and shipyard industries. It can cause an irreversible lung disease known as silicosis.

AFL-CIO safety and health director Peg Seminario said the union has been awaiting the rule since 1997. “I’m sure they will give it a thorough review and it’ll be issued sometime, we hope, in the first quarter of the year," Seminario said.


Also expected this year: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be given the authority to regulate – for the first time – cigars and electronic cigarettes.

Originally promoted as a way to help smokers quit smoking, e-cigarettes have come under increasing scrutiny by health advocates alarmed about the rapid rise of e-cigarette use among teens (most states have no age limits for purchasing them).  The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that there is little research to support the claim that electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) like e-cigarettes can help people quit using tobacco.

“The makers of ENDS say that the ingredients are ‘safe,’ but there are questions about how safe it is to inhale some substances in the ENDS vapor,” says the ACS. “And ENDS cartridges are not labeled with their ingredients, so the user doesn’t know what’s in them. The amounts of nicotine and other substances a person gets from each cartridge are also unclear and have been found to vary greatly even when comparing same brand cartridges from the same manufacturer.

“When the solutions in ENDS are heated, they release acetaldehyde and formaldehyde – known toxins. The flavorings in the solutions may also be toxic. Studies have shown that e-cigarettes can cause short-term lung changes that are much like those caused by regular cigarettes.”

The ACS says because ENDS are designed to deliver nicotine, which is addictive, it is likely that ENDS use will lead to nicotine dependence, which could lead to the use of other tobacco products.

The tobacco industry says a proposal to require all products released after Feb. 15, 2007 to apply retroactively for approval would put them out of business.

The FDA originally said the final rules would be out last summer but changed the deadline to November. The OMB is reviewing the final rule.

Food safety

The FDA is also busy with a food safety bill which is plans to issue in March (as opposed to its original target of April of 2015). Mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, the regulation would establish requirements for shippers, carriers and receivers to use sanitary practices to ensure that animal and human food does not become contaminated when being transported.

Methane emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects to release a final rule in June to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. The rule would require drillers to use new technologies to track and block both accidental and purposeful leaks when producing and transmitting oil and gas.