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OSHA trying to change silica exposure limits to reduce illnesses


In some professions, exposure to toxic and hazardous materials is part and parcel of the job, but when the exposure is at levels high enough to cause workplace diseases, steps need to be taken to protect workers. North Carolina residents may be aware that silica is one type of hazardous material that causes an incurable lung disease and workers in mining, oil and gas and sand blasting are routinely exposed to it. While only some industrial workers are exposed to dangerous levels of silica, millions of workers across the country come into contact with the hazardous material. These individuals must be protected.

Given its toxicity, many would assume that exposure to such a dangerous material is properly limited, but this is not the case. Now the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is trying to change that.

Crystalline silica is particles that are created from operations involving industrial sand, rock, concrete and brick. The particles can be inhaled and can cause cancer, kidney disease and even pulmonary disease. The current exposure limits were set in 1971, but medical knowledge has evolved since then to demonstrate the hazards of exposure. Keeping this in mind, OSHA has proposed new exposure limits, trying to separate the standard for general exposure and maritime employment and for construction.

In addition to setting new standards, OSHA's proposal, set forth in 2013, also calls for safety training, medical surveillance and recordkeeping. The proposal, once/if implemented, will have a significant impact on industries, which is why OSHA has called for comments on the rule, specifically from the small businesses directly impacted by it. After the commenting period ends, OSHA will hold public hearings on the issue, which may go on for many weeks.

While regulators sort out the issue, North Carolina workers who acquire an illness from their job or get injured while working may be eligible to receive workers' compensation from their employer. Workers' compensation benefits can be used to cover medical expenses and replace wages that were lost when time was taken off from work for recuperating. Even if regulations lag in protecting workers from exposure to toxic material, the legal system can seek to hold these employers accountable.

Source: National Law Review, "Comment period almost over for OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Crystalline Silica Proposal," Cynthia Effinger, Jan. 13, 2013

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