New OSHA Standards Help Workers Exposed to Silica

May 5, 2016

Silica dust is an occupational hazard that approximately 1.7 million American workers in construction trades, hydraulic fracturing, sandblasting and mining operations face each day at work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced new standards for silica exposure in the workplace, which are about 42 years overdue. Workers who are exposed to the small, crystalline silica particles (called respirable particles) are vulnerable to diseases such as: silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that exposure to silica may be related to the development of autoimmune disorders, chronic renal disease and other adverse health effects.

OSHA is proposing two new standards with regard to workplace exposure to crystalline silica to improve worker protection. The first set of standards is for general industry and maritime and the other is for the construction industry. OSHA is encouraging public participation in the rulemaking process. They will use the public input to develop the final rules that will adequately protect workers, is feasible for employers and is evidence-based.

The new standards replace OSHA rules that have been in place since 1971, and they reduce the allowable exposure limit to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, which according to The Center for Public Integrity, is five times less than the current limit for the construction and shipyard industry and have of the current level for other workplaces.

OSHA claims that the new silica standards will prevent about 640 deaths per year. Opponents of the new rules, which include construction industry groups and worker safety advocates, say that implementing the new rules will be costly to implement, and that the new standards are not low enough to protect worker health. A spokesperson for the Associated General Contractors of America said that the technology required to get silica levels down to the new standard do not yet exist, making it challenging to comply with the law.

CDC publication about silicosis prevention reports that while the disease is not curable, it is preventable. Since 1968, more than 14,000 workers have died from silicosis, and more than 200 workers die each year of the disease in the U.S. while hundreds more become disabled. The CDC warns workers to:

  • Avoid working in dusty conditions whenever possible
  • Know what causes silica dust in your workplace
  • You could be at risk even if there is no visible dust. If there is visible dust you are definitely at risk
  • Reduce exposure to silica particles by:
    • Use ventilation and water sprays when working in a confined environment
    • Use a respirator
    • Take regular health and lung screenings offered by your employer
    • Shower or change into clean clothing if possible before leaving the work site to prevent contaminating your other work places, your car or bring home the contaminated dust.

If you have been diagnosed with silicosis related to the kind of work you do, you may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim to cover your lost wages and medical expenses related to the occupational disease. Sometimes, employers’ workers’ compensation insurers are not eager to approve claims for dust exposure diseases such as silicosis. Working with an experienced Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorney will ensure that you have an advocate who will fight for your right to compensation when you sustain an occupational disease.

If you are suffering from an occupational illness, the experienced Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates can help get you the compensation you deserve. We serve clients throughout Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. Please contact us for help.