The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a final rule regarding worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica, and various industries in Pennsylvania and around the country, including construction and hydraulic fracturing, have compliance deadlines between one and five years. The recognition of the dangers of silica dust and regulation of worker exposure dates back to the 1930s when the U.S. Department of Labor first became aware of its harmful effects. Kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, silicosis and lung cancer can all be caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica. However, it was not until 1971, upon the creation of OSHA, when the first standards for worker exposure were set.
These standards have long been considered outdated, and new industries mean that workers are being exposed in new ways. OSHA published a full review in 2013 and has been working toward implementing new rules since that time. It is expected that these new regulations will save more than 600 lives each year.
Among the main provisions, employers will be required to monitor employee health and report to them the condition of their lungs. They are required to use engineering controls or respirators to protect employees. The permissible exposure limit to respirable crystalline silica has also been reduced. Worker access to high-risk areas will be limited, and workers will be trained on exposure prevention.
The consequences of toxic exposure in the workplace can be devastating to individual workers and their families. If the employee is unable to work or if the exposure leads to a fatal disease, the family may be left without its breadwinner. While workers’ compensation is commonly associated with injury accidents, it covers occupational diseases as well. However, many insurers will try to deny that there is a nexus between a workplace and an illness, which is why it might be advisable for claimants to have the assistance of legal counsel.