Silica Exposure Standard Could Be Cut in Half

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requests comments on a proposed regulation aimed at reducing workers’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica that can lead to silicoses and even death.
     The proposed regulation would cut the accepted rate of exposure to silica in half, saving almost 700 lives and preventing approximately 1,600 new cases of silicoses per year, according to a statement by the Department of Labor.
     Crystalline silica is a mineral that occurs in several forms, and overexposure can lead to silicosis and other lung diseases.
     The most common crystalline silica is quartz, which is found in sand, stone, rock, concrete, brick and mortar. It is used in a variety of applications in industrial settings including construction, mining, manufacturing, agriculture and in shipyards. Employees working in environments involving glass manufacturing, foundries and sand blasting, for example, can become overexposed and suffer a myriad of physical consequences.
     Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said in an agency statement that the particles can lead to disease and death, making exposure limits a high priority for the Department of Labor and OSHA
     “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. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and kidney disease. Workers affected by silica are fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers lost to entirely preventable illnesses,” Michaels said in an agency statement.
     The permissible exposure limit (PEL) adopted in 1971 is 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour time period.
     OSHA’s proposed regulations would cut the current standard in half, to 50 micrograms per cubic meter, for two categories: general industry and maritime, and construction.
     Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is another industry where workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica. Fracking is a process used to extract natural gas and oil deposits from shale and other geologically tight formations.
     Based on recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau and industry sources, the OSHA estimates that roughly 25,000 fracking workers alone, in 444 establishments operated by 200 business entities, would be affected by the proposed standard.
     Based on OSHA’s estimates, using a discount rate of three percent, the proposed rule would “prevent 688 fatalities and 1,585 silica-related illnesses annually once it is fully effective. The estimated cost of the rule is $637 million annually,” according to the action.
     “The discounted monetized benefits of the proposed rule are estimated to be $5.3 billion annually, and the proposed rule is estimated to generate net benefits of $4.6 billion annually,” the action noted.
     The agency is also proposing elements for a “comprehensive health standard,” including requirements for exposure assessments, control methods, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication and recordkeeping, the action said.
     Written comments are due by Dec. 11.

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