Silica Exposure at Work – Final Rule Limiting Exposure
Last March, OSHA issued a final rule aimed at limiting silica-related diseases including lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease. The rule contains two standards, one for construction activities and the other for general and maritime activities.
The new rule is overdue. Silica exposure has long been recognized as a serious work hazard. In 1971, when OSHA was first created, standards for silica exposure were established. The process for amending those standards began in 2013 and were completed last year.
The updated standards took effect on June 23, 2016. However, enforcement of the new standards has been delayed. For the construction industry, enforcement began on September 23, 2017, while enforcement will begin in June 2018 for general/maritime activities.
In the last 25 years, as the number of silica-related diseases increased, the risks associated with silica exposure gained attention. In 1996, silicosis in workers was discussed at the OSHA-NIOSH-American Lung Association Conference. Since then, literally thousands of workers across the U.S. have been diagnosed with silicosis or a related lung disease. Fatalities are common, especially in cases of acute or accelerated silicosis.
OSHA Standards – The Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for Silica Dust in Construction
The following is a summary of the updated silica exposure standards, 29 CFR §1926.1153.
- The PEL for breathable silica is reduced to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8 hour shift.
- Employers are required to use sufficient controls to limit exposure to the PEL, including engineering controls (water collection systems or ventilation systems) and/or providing respirators.
- Employers are also required to develop a written PEL control plan and offer medical exams to workers who are exposed to high levels of silica dust.
- Employers must train workers about silica exposure risks.
Silica Exposure in the Workplace
Workers in the construction industry are particularly at risk for silica-related diseases. In fact, of the 2.3 million workers who are exposed to silica dust, OSHA estimates that 2 million of them work in the construction industry.
Silica dust can settle in the lungs, where it simply accumulates. Repeated low-level exposure over a long period of time or repeated high-level exposure over a short period of time can lead to fatal lung diseases. Increasingly, younger adults (18-45), who work in the construction industry, are dying of silicosis. Those who work in mining, tunneling, sandblasting and masonry are also at risk.
Silica Exposure at Work – Legal Rights to Financial Compensation
Workers who were exposed to silica while on the job and later developed lung cancer or silicosis may be eligible for financial compensation, including workers’ compensation benefits from the employer. In addition, other parties may be held liable for exposing a worker to silica, in violation of applicable OSHA regulations. In these cases, known as third party liability lawsuits for a work injury, workers can receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. In cases of silicosis, lung cancer or lung disease, an injured worker may be able to receive additional compensation for future pain and suffering. In cases of death, the surviving family (spouse, children or dependents) may receive compensation.
More from the PA & NJ Work Injury Law Library:
- Can I sue workers’ compensation for pain and suffering? [Injured workers who make workers’ compensation claims are often surprised to learn that workers’ comp doesn’t pay for pain and suffering. So, when can an injured worker get compensated for physical pain and mental/emotional suffering?]
- Insurance Claims for Work Injuries & Job Accidents in Pennsylvania and New Jersey [What’s the role of insurance in a work injury or job accident claim in Pennsylvania or New Jersey? Here, our experienced work accident lawyers discuss claims for insurance and the timeline for getting compensated via insurance.]
Work Injury Law Firm – Laffey, Bucci & Kent
Laffey, Bucci & Kent is a Pennsylvania and New Jersey work injury law firm dedicated to protecting workers and their families. Our lawyers are proud union supporters and have spent their entire careers fighting against large employers and their insurance companies.
If you or a loved one developed a silica-related disease due to exposure in the workplace, contact our lawyers for a free consultation. You may be eligible for financial compensation. 215.399.9255
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