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OSHA tries to limit silica exposure, reduce workplace diseases

When it comes to exposure to toxic materials, statistics demonstrate clear dangers involved with silica dust and workplace diseases and illnesses caused by it. Of the two million workers exposed to silica yearly, around 200 die annually because of silicosis while more than 7,000 people contract the disease every year.

Workers in the North Carolina construction industry may regularly be exposed to silica dust while jackhammering, sawing or grinding stone. The current exposure limit to silica was set 40 years ago, but Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials claim the limits are outdated given the facts about exposure effects. These limits are also inconsistently applied and therefore are not protecting workers effectively. Facing pressure to reduce the exposure limits to save lives, OSHA has finally come up with a proposal that would cut exposure limits by 80 percent in the construction industry. The move would save around 700 lives a year, in addition to reducing the new cases of silicosis.

However, as with any new measure, the proposal faces opposition from industry groups arguing that the new measures will be costly to enforce and are unnecessary. In addition, since the new levels will be so low, some argue it may not practical to enforce and the focus should be on ensuring compliance of the already existing limits.

As the debate continues, North Carolina workers contracting an illness on the job should be aware of their rights as an employee in order to ensure their rights are being protected. They have the right to file a workers' compensation claim to recover compensation that may cover medical expenses for treatment. In addition to providing for a sick or injured worker, a workers' compensation claim may also highlight the gaps in an employer's safety regulations, preventing other employees from sustaining the same injuries and illnesses.

Source: ABC, "Gov't seeks new limit on silica dust," Sam Hananel, Aug. 23, 2013

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