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OSHA Concludes Public Hearings on Silica Exposure Bill

Three weeks of public hearings conducted by OSHA regarding their proposed silica exposure rule have finally come to an end after the last session on April 4. Fully aware that their legislation could be potentially divisive as employers, employees, and other special interest groups all had their own opinions on the issue, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wanted to open the floor so everyone could have their voices heard.

Supporters of the bill, ranging from the American Cancer Society to AIHA, insist that setting new permissible exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica could drastically reduce the outbreak of silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, airway diseases, and autoimmune disorders.  Testifying in support of the rule, AIHA Vice President Daniel H. Anna stated that, “Ultimately the question is, ‘will this proposal result in improved employee health and safety?’ AIHA answers a resounding ‘yes’ and supports OSHA’s efforts to move forward with the proposed rule that helps to protect worker health and reduce illnesses related to silica exposure.”

The opposition claims that the legislation, though sound in theory, will fail to translate to the real world. Contractors and building professionals understand that the environment in which they work hardly represents the safest of work environments. Typically, these areas are exposed to the elements and, though the potential risks are thoroughly examined, there are only so many actions one can take to promote worker safety. The proposed legislation would force employers to pay more to prevent worker exposure to respirable silica, which could affect the recovering industry’s ability to hire new workers, thereby stalling growth.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels thanked everyone who had contributed over the past couple weeks for their input. He continued that, “This is an open process, and the input we receive will help us ensure that a final rule adequately protects workers, is feasible for employers, and is based on the best available evidence.” OSHA has a difficult couple weeks ahead of it as the organization weighs the best possible direction for contractors and builders across the United States. If you would like to read transcripts from the hearings they are available to you here. And, as always, we will do our best to keep you updated on OSHA’s decision in the not so distant future.

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OSHA Infuriates Construction Industry with Proposed Silica Legislation

In 122 days, 7 hours, and 45 minutes, the world will have the privilege of watching the ocean’s deadliest predators bite, thrash, and chomp their way to fame on Discovery’s Shark Week. For some, that week represents an event even bigger than the Super Bowl, and for others it’s a week that makes you think twice (at least) about even putting your pinky toe in the ocean, let alone going swimming. According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, the chances of being attacked by a shark are just one in 11.5 million (you’re more likely to be killed by lightning). Most people are afraid of things that, in their mind, have the greatest potential to end their existence. They fear spiders, snakes, heights, dogs, and lightning, but very few people are afraid of the air that they breathe.

That may sound like an odd fear to have but for those construction workers who use equipment that releases minute, sand-like particles into the air called “silica,” it speaks to an ever-present threat. In a statement on their website, OSHA states that, “Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential. Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe.” The proposed legislation expects to, “prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease.”

While the proposal sounds feasible in theory, it may have a difficult time in the real world. The Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC) testified that the new legislation lacked pragmatism, as construction sites encounter conditions (such as rain, wind and cold) that would make it impossible to enforce OSHA’s new silica rule. Instead of protecting workers, the proposal could dramatically increase costs that would leave construction firms with less money for workers and projects, resulting in layoffs and fewer job opportunities.

The CISC and OSHA will continue to debate over the positives and negatives of the regulation of airborne silica, but in the meantime, here are a few steps your business can take to protect yourself and your workers. Stay safe!

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Everything You Need to Know About Crystalline Silica

Two million workers in the US are at risk of crystalline silica exposure every year. People who work in abrasive blasting, foundry work, stone cutting, rock drilling, quarry work, and tunneling are among those at the highest risk of exposure. These high risk jobs employ more than 100,000 workers annually.

But what exactly is silica, and how dangerous is it? What effects can it have on people who are exposed to it?

What is Crystalline Silica?

Crystalline silica, commonly referred to simply as “silica,” is one of the main elements that makes up soil, sand, granite, and a number of other minerals. Quartz, critobalite, and tridymite are the three most common forms of silica. When workers cut, drill, chip, or grind objects containing silica, fragments small enough for the workers to inhale make break off. Inhaling silica particles can be fatal.

Crystalline Silica is officially classified as a human lung carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer. Silica inhalation is known to cause silicosis, which is an incurable disease that can cause permanent disabilities or even death. Inhaling silica particles causes scar tissue to form within the lungs, which reduces the lungs’ ability to draw oxygen. People who have lung damage due to silicosis are at a greater risk for lung infections such as tuberculosis.

Silicosis Symptoms

There are three types of silicosis:

  • Chronic
  • Accelerated
  • Acute

Chronic silicosis is the most common type, and it usually occurs after a person is exposed to a low to moderate amount of respirable silica over 15-20 years. Individuals with chronic silicosis may require chest x-rays to identify lung damage, because symptoms may be much less obvious than in the other types.

Accelerated silicosis, as its name suggests, has a quicker onset than chronic silicosis, because it is a result of high exposures to respirable silica over 5-10 years. Individuals who suffer from accelerated silicosis experience severe shortness of breath, weakness, and weight loss.

Sufferers of acute silicosis have been exposed to extremely high concentrations of respirable silica for as few as three months. Exposure to this much respirable silica for any time up to two years can result in acute silicosis. The onset of symptoms occurs even faster than those of accelerated silicosis due to the higher concentration of crystalline silica exposure. Individuals suffering from acute silicosis experience disabling shortness of breath, weakness, and weight loss, which often leads to death.

Check back with us next time for more information about silica exposure.