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OSHA announces new silica dust regulation

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration released a proposal for new rules about a well-known workplace hazard - silica dust. For those in the construction and manufacturing industries silica dust is a well-recognized threat. The recent growth in natural gas fracking has exposed a new group of workers to the chemical, which is used commonly in fracking fluids that are pumped into the ground to help drive out the natural gas.

In states like Pennsylvania where the natural gas industry is a large source of employment, this type of exposure could be impacting thousands of workers around the state.

Health officials say that the problems for natural gas workers arise before silica is mixed in with water to create the fracking liquid. When it is still free in its crystalline form workers can breathe it in. Inhaling silica can lead to an illness known as silicosis which is linked to lung cancer, kidney and autoimmune disease, and tuberculosis.

OSHA's new rules would require companies to limit worker exposure and to educate their employees about the dangers of silica. In addition, employers who expose workers to silica will also need to provide medical exams to track exposure and health risks.

According to recent studies, air in Pennsylvania and five other states with a signficant fracking industry have the highest levels of exposure. Results showed more than ten times the permitted level of silica in the air on the inspected work sites.

Employees who suffer from this type of injury at work are entitled to compensation for the medical expenses and other costs associated with the exposure. This may come through workers compensation but may also come from a negligence lawsuit in some cases where the employer failed to take reasonable steps to mitigate harm.



Source: NPR, "How Could OSHA's New Silica Rules Impact the Natural Gas Industry?" Katie Colanderi, Aug. 29, 2013.  

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