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OSHA tightens standards for silica exposure

Employees in New Jersey and across the country may be concerned about the potential dangers of exposure and inhalation of respirable crystalline silica. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published a fact sheet that aims to encourage compliance with its standards on exposure to the mineral product. Employers are mandated to take action to protect employees from silica exposure, including assessing the potential for exposure in the workplace, providing training and establishing clear plans in case of exposure.

OSHA’s rule decreases the limit of allowable exposure to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged across an eight-hour work shift. Crystalline silica, which can cause cancer, is found in sand as well as artificial stone. Being exposed to silica, and particularly breathing in silica dust, can lead to silicosis. This is an occupational disease that leads to trauma in the lungs. It begins when a worker inhales small particles of silica dust. These particles slip into the lungs, triggering an immune response that attempts to remove them from the body. Instead, this sets off a cycle of responses that can leave the lungs severely damaged and workers unable to breathe.

During the rule-making process, OSHA estimated that 2.3 million workers in the United States are regularly exposed to silica dust. Of these workers, 2 million work in construction. These standards went into effect in June 2016, but industries have until June 2018 to bring their operations into compliance. Several more steps will be required in 2020 and 2021, including medical surveillance for workers exposed to higher levels of silica.

Workers who have been exposed to silica and other toxic and dangerous substances on the job may be able to obtain compensation for medical costs. A workers’ compensation attorney can help to advocate for employees who have suffered due to toxic exposure and occupational disease.