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Silica Dangers Prompt Proposed Rule From OSHA

We tend to hear a great deal about the hazards of on-the-job asbestos inhalation, which has been known to cause a rare and fatal form of cancer known as mesothelioma.
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Now, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration is focused on promotion of awareness of a similar airborne work hazard: crystalline silica. The agency has proposed a new rule that is aimed at curbing the incidents of lung cancer, kidney disease, silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that American workers suffer as a result of exposure to silica. The agency estimates hundreds of workers die and thousands more are sickened each year by the substance.

Our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers know that such exposure might not only affect a person’s ability to work, but also to breathe. OSHA anticipates that the new proposed rules could potentially result in the prevention of 1,600 silica-related illness diagnoses each year, as well as 700 silica-related deaths.

Much of the silica exposure occurs during operations that involve the drilling, crushing, sawing and cutting of concrete, block, brick and other types of stone material. It’s also frequently a risk for those who regularly use sand products, such as workers in glass manufacturing, sand blasting and foundries.

OSHA estimates some 2.2 million workers are exposed to silica in their workplaces, with the majority – about 1.85 million – in the construction sectors.

The proposal, based on extensive scientific and technical review, outlines two new crystalline silica standards. One would be for general industry and maritime, while the other would be specific to the construction industry.

OSHA says that the current permissible exposure limits for the substance were last updated in 1971. We now know that the current rules don’t do enough to protect workers, and even OSHA admits that not only are they outdated, having been based on research from the 1960s, they are at points inconsistent and difficult to fully understand. For example, the current formula for permissible exposure limits for shipyards and construction employers are based on a method of measurement that hasn’t been routinely used for the last four decades.

What the new rules would require is that worker exposure to respirable crystaline silica be limited to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. This figure would be averaged over an 8-hour day. The proposed rule also includes provisions for how such measurement should occur. There are also outlines for how to reduce other workers’ exposure risks. Extensive training guides would also be offered for workers deemed at high risk for exposure.

Lowering the risk of dangerous silica exposure can be something as simple as wetting the materials so that there is sufficient dust control to limit the amount of the substance that becomes airborne. Process isolation is also another fairly effective method of limiting exposure risk, and it involves enclosing certain operation areas. A third risk reduction method includes the collection of dust via vacuum.

OSHA’s proposed rule still has to be vetted through a series of public hearings, and it’s possible that some industries may oppose the new rules, as there may be a financial burden they would need to bear initially to alter their standard practices and policies.

However, OSHA predicts that over the next 60 years, the average annual net benefits of adopting these rules would be somewhere between $2.8 and $4.7 billion.That includes reduction of health care and workers’ compensation costs associated with silica-related worker illnesses.

By contrast, the average annual cost to employers covered by the rule would be about $1,245, OSHA estimates. Companies that employ 20 or fewer workers might expect to incur an annual average cost of $550 to adopt such rules. OSHA underscores there would be no real impact on the total U.S. employment rate.

If you or a loved one has been injured on the job, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.

Additional Resources:
OSHA’s Crystalline Silica Rulemaking, Aug. 2013, Press Release, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration
US Department of Labor’s OSHA announces proposed rule to protect workers exposed to crystalline silica, Aug. 23, 2013, News Release, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration
More Blog Entries:
Georgia Drilling Injury Risk Spikes as Industry Expands, Aug. 20, 2013, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog