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OSHA and NIOSH Issue Hazard Alert to Protect Workers from Silica Exposure

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued a hazard alert for employers in hydraulic fracturing operations to take appropriate steps to protect workers from silica exposure.

This action meets the Obama administration’s focus on ensuring that this important resource continues to be developed safely and responsibly. The hazard alert follows a study that found that overexposure to silica is a health hazard to workers conducting hydraulic fracturing operations.

In 2010, NIOSH began collecting data at hydraulic fracturing operations because large quantities of silica sand are used during the process. NIOSH worked in cooperation with oil and gas industry partners to sample the air at eleven sites in five states where hydraulic fracturing operations were occurring. They discovered seven sources of silica during operations and found that workers downwind had the highest silica exposures.

Workers who inhale silica every day are at great risk of developing silicosis, a disease that causes lung tissue to react to trapped silica particles causing inflammation and scarring, and reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. Silica can cause lung cancer and also has been linked to tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease.

The alert states that employers must ensure that employees are properly protected from exposure to silica. The alert set forth guidelines of engineering controls, work practices, protective equipment and product substitution that can protect workers.

Assistant secretary of labor for OSHA said, “Hazardous exposures to silica can and must be prevented. It is important for employers and workers to understand the hazards associated with silica exposure in hydraulic fracturing operations and how to protect workers. OSHA and NIOSH are committed to continuing to work with the industry and workers to find effective solutions to address these hazards.”

The AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director said, “The AFL-CIO strongly supports this hazard alert that provides important information to employers and workers involved in hydraulic fracturing operations regarding the serious health threat from silica exposures. It is critical that OSHA and NIOSH disseminate this information, so that immediate action can be taken to protect workers from silicosis and other silica-related diseases.”

Pulgini & Norton, LLP attorneys have handled workers’ compensation claims for over 25 years in and around Boston and its surrounding areas. If you or a family member has been injured at work and would like to seek legal assistance, please contact us at (781) 843-2200 or (888) 344-2046 or email us.

Cited Sources:

OSHA and NIOSH issue hazard alert on ensuring workers in hydraulic fracturing operations have appropriate protections from silica exposure, United States Department of Labor, June 21, 2012

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