More than 2 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica every year on the job, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, most of whom work in general construction. The other 10 percent of exposed workers are in either the general industry, maritime, or fracking trades.
Crystalline silica is an everyday mineral found in materials such as sand, stone, concrete, and mortar – materials routinely encountered in construction and mining, for example. It’s also used in the production of glass and pottery. When workers cut, saw, drill, or otherwise handle these materials in the course of their work, they can breathe in deadly silica dust particles.
After prolonged exposure, anyone can develop silicosis, which causes fluid buildup and scar tissue in the lungs that cuts down your ability to breathe. Other illnesses have also been linked to silica exposure.
Researchers have known for decades about the harmful effects of prolonged exposure to silica dust. Because of this, OSHA issued new standards for employers whose workers handle these materials, one for construction workers, and the other for general industry and maritime workers. Enforcement began in September 2017 for the construction industry and is set to go live for general industry and maritime trades on June 23, 2018.
Jobs with Increased Silica Exposure
In the residential context, the jobs most commonly associated with silica, according to OSHA, include:
- Jack hammering.
- Rock drilling, cutting, chipping or polishing.
- Brick or tile cutting and sawing.
- Concrete drilling, sawing, grinding and polishing.
- Asphalt milling.
- Stone countertop fabrication.
- Cutting of fiber cement board and stucco.
New OSHA Standards
Since enforcement began late last year, contractors included in this new standard must:
- Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies which tasks are involved with exposure and articulate which methods are in place to help protect workers, including policies to restrict access to work areas where higher exposures are likely.
- Designate someone to implement this written exposure control plan.
- Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica, such as use of compressed air without a proper ventilation system to capture the dust and dry sweeping, if other effective, safer alternatives might be available.
- Provide medical exams – including chest X-rays and lung function tests – every three years for employees who are required to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
- Educate workers about the adverse health effects of prolonged silica exposure, which on-the-job activities can expose them to silica, and how they can limit their exposure.
- Maintain current records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.
Community managers, homeowner associations, homeowners, and building owners considering having construction work done that involves the work described above should ask their contractors about compliance with OSHA’s silica standards. According to contractors we’ve talked to, associations, homeowners, and building owners should expect higher costs for OSHA-compliant work. Additionally, home and building owners, as well as associations, need to make sure contractors are complying with the new standard so they aren’t exposed to potential liability for workers or residents who might be exposed to silica.
If you’re worried you may have been exposed to silica, and have had difficulty breathing, you could have grounds for a claim. Burg Simpson construction defect law firm can help. Give us a call at 303-792-5595 or fill out our Free Case Evaluation Form now.