In late September of this year, OSHA began enforcing a new rule on respirable crystalline silica, a common material produced by industrial activities involving stone, glass, brick, and other materials. This is actually the first part of a two-step rule being rolled out, and only impacts construction industries; general industrial and maritime rules will begin enforcement June 23, 2018. The rule is aimed at reducing exposure to the airborne silica, thereby reducing cases of multiple diseases associated with its intake.
Silica in the Workplace
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a website devoted to silica exposure, its effects, and the papers they’ve published on the matter over the years. Inhaling the fine particulate silica produced in industrial settings is associated with cases of lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and other airway diseases. It is distinct enough that there is one condition named specifically for it, silicosis, a preventable but not curable form of lung disease that can cause disability and death. It is also being considered as possibly related to the development of autoimmune disorders, kidney problems, and other conditions.
The list of industries in which exposure can be expected is incredibly broad, as described by OSHA. Abrasive blasting has high levels of exposure, and is used on a wide range of substances such as jewelry, tombstones, glass, and the removal of paints and oils from a number of surfaces. Exposure is also common in manufacturing industries, and crystalline silica is used in adhesives, paints, soaps, and glass.
OSHA published a brief overview of their new rules in March 2016, but the enforcement was staged at beginning in June of 2017 and 2018. The first level of enforcement, that which directly affects construction, was delayed by three months earlier this year “due to the unique nature of the requirements in the construction standard.” This delay certainly exposed more workers to higher than advised levels of silica, and the coming months as we wait for the general industry and maritime rules to go into effect will exposure many more. Despite this, the implementation of the rule has been controversial in the eyes of many employers, who feel that it opens the door to more government regulation than necessary.
At the offices of Schweickert & Ganassin, we applaud the efforts of OSHA to take control of the toxic exposure of crystalline silica. The safety of those on industrial sites is more important than the convenience of their employers, and we must work tirelessly to protect those workers. Conditions like silicosis can take over a decade to receive diagnosis, sometimes long after the worker has left the environment where they acquired it. If you or a loved one has suffered from the effects of crystalline silica, let us help you find justice.
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