It’s taken a while, but finally the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have now come up with new standards regarding occupational silica dust exposure. The regulations were created in 1971 with no changes since then, so the update was sorely needed. Fortunately, it looks as if the new protections for workers will help prevent the many dangers of exposure to silica dust, also known as respirable crystalline silica. It’s estimated that these new regulations will prevent over 900 new cases of silicosis and 600 deaths annually.
OSHA has issued what is called a “final rule,” meaning that the new standards will take effect on June 23, 2016. Employers will have from one to five years to come into compliance.
What the New Rule Establishes
The new rule regarding silica exposure creates two different standards: one for the construction industry, and one for general industry and maritime jobs. It is expected that worker exposure will be cut in half for general industry and maritime employees, and by five times for those who work construction. Exposure to silica dust will now be limited to a time-weighted average, spread over eight hours, of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air.
- Using water or ventilation systems to limit exposure to silica dust
- Providing the appropriate respirators
- Providing medical exams to workers with a high level of exposure
- Training workers with regard to silica risks and limiting exposure.
The new standards will protect approximately 2.3 million employees who work in jobs that range from brick manufacturing to kitchen countertop installation to hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
Kitchen countertops? Yes. Those who work with engineered stone countertops have an increased risk of silicosis because they are made from processed quartz, which can have silica levels as high as 90 percent. That’s twice what’s usually found in granite. When the engineered stone slabs are cut, large amounts of respirable crystalline silica is released into the air. (Note that homeowners face no risk having these countertops in their homes.) In Texas, one documented case of silicosis has arisen in a man who worked with engineered stone for almost a decade.
Silica Exposure and Silicosis
While the ways an employer can limit a worker’s exposure to silica dust are not too difficult to accomplish, those who have been exposed for years may be wondering exactly what their risks are.
Silicosis is the biggest hazard of repeated exposure to respirable crystalline silica. In that way, it is like asbestos and asbestosis—the disease requires long-term exposure to develop, but is deadly once it does. Silica dust scars the lungs, creating not only difficulty breathing but also putting the sufferer at increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and kidney disease. Silicosis can take 20 or more years to develop, but if the exposure level has been consistently high, it can develop more quickly.
Symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, severe coughing, weakness and fatigue, chest pains, and fever. If you believe you may have silicosis, please seek medical attention. If it turns out you have developed the disease from occupational exposure, your next step might be seeking legal counsel regarding toxic respirable crystalline silica exposure.
Injured on the Job? Call A Local Baltimore Work Injury Lawyer.
Many situations can place workers at risk, including exposure to dangerous substances over an average workday, such as the risks of inhaling respirable crystalline silica. Steve Heisler has devoted 25 years to helping injured people and their families pursue compensation from those who caused them to be injured. Steve approaches each case with compassion and thorough investigation, leaving no stone unturned in his goal of obtaining justice for persons harmed by the actions or inactions of negligent employers, manufacturers and sub-contractors. If you or your loved one has been injured or killed in a work-related accident anywhere in Maryland, call the Baltimore injury lawyers of the Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler today at (410) 625-4878, or use our online contact form. The initial consultation is always free.