Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers: New OSHA Silica StandardApril 19, 2017
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced a delay in implementing the new standard for respirable crystalline silica. Enforcement had originally been scheduled for June 23, 2017, but has been extended to September 23, 2017.
Exposure to crystalline silica can cause many health problems, including serious illnesses such as lung cancer, silicosis and kidney disease. Construction workers are at particular risk for exposure to crystalline silica through common tasks such as demolition, jack hammering, drilling, grinding, and using handheld chipping tools or masonry saws. OSHA estimates that out of 2 million workers in the construction industry, 840,000 are being exposed to silica levels higher than the new standard, also known as the permissible exposure limit (PEL).
New Safety Standard
The new standard aims to protect workers at risk of developing an occupational illness related to respirable crystalline silica by limiting their exposure. Employers have a choice of measuring the exposure levels in their workplace and taking independent steps to control them, or using the control methods set forth by OSHA. The new guidelines provide a table (referred to as Table 1) wherein common construction tasks are matched with proper dust control methods. Using the table, employers can know exactly which steps to take to protect their employees. Effective dust control methods include using water to keep dust from becoming airborne, or capturing dust through ventilation. In some cases whereby workers use equipment such as saws for prolonged periods every day, respirators are required. Employers who choose to use Table 1 and its control methods are not subject to the PEL and are not required to measure silica exposure levels.
Alternative Control Methods
In an effort to be flexible, OSHA does not demand that employers use the methods outlined in Table 1. However, those who do not must measure the exposure levels in their workplace if it may be at or above an action level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air on average for an 8-hour workday. Workers must be protected from silica exposures higher than the PEL, which is 50 micrograms per cubic meter. Employers are required to implement dust control methods to ensure the respirable silica exposure does not exceed the PEL. If dust cannot be controlled sufficiently to acceptable levels, then respirators must be provided.
Whether an employer decides to control silica levels independently or uses the control methods outlined in Table 1, they must also have a written exposure plan. This plan will identify high risk tasks and limit access to sites where these tasks are carried out. Employers must also identify a qualified person who will be assigned the job of executing the written plan. Additionally, they must provide medical exams every three years to any workers who, due to silica exposure, must wear a respirator for 30 or more days in a year. The exams should include chest X-rays and lung function tests. Finally, all employers covered by the standard must use available alternatives for housekeeping practices that could expose workers to respirable crystalline silica.
Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Construction Workers Harmed by Exposure to Crystalline Silica
If you have been exposed to crystalline silica at work and suffer from a respiratory illness, you may be entitled to compensation. The experienced Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton have more than 30 years experience helping injured workers recover maximum compensation for an occupational illness. Call 844-556-4LAW (4529) to schedule a consultation or contact us online. We serve clients throughout the state of Maryland.