Silica dust rules tightened, may impact workers in Connecticut


Exposure to many workplace atmospheric hazards can lead to a serious occupational disease requiring workers' compensation in Connecticut. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued final rule making to improve protections against one of these hazards, respirable silica dust.

These rules have not been updated for 45 years even though respirable crystalline silica is a progressive and incurable disease that is responsible for causing lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease from workplace exposure. According to OSHA, these new regulations will prevent 600 fatalities and 900 silicosis cases year and will lead to $7.7 billion in annual net benefits.

Approximately 2.3 million employees are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their occupations. This includes two million construction workers who drill and cut concrete, stone and other silica-containing materials. This disease also afflicts 300,000 workers in occupations involving brick manufacturing, foundries and hydraulic manufacturing.

The regulations contain a separate standard for construction and another standard for general industry and maritime. Compliance dates will be staggered to ensure that employers can comply by taking measures such as installing engineering controls, offering medical surveillance and for installing dust controls. Compliance with most of the construction standards is required by June 23, 2017. Most of the general and maritime standards take effect one year later.

The regulations provide additional protection for workers by reducing the permissible exposure to crystalline silica over an eight-hour shift to 50 micrograms per cubic merit of air. The final rules will contain a table of specified controls to construction employers to allow greater compliance.

Employers will also have to implement water, ventilation and other engineering controls to limit worker exposure and provide respiratory protection when controls are unable to restrict exposure to the permissible level, restrict access to high exposure areas, provide training to workers and assure that there are medical examinations for workers who are subject to high exposures.

Employers can currently restrict harmful dust exposure by using widely-available equipment, using water to prevent dust from becoming airborne or installing a ventilation system that captures dust as it becomes created. Nonetheless, afflicted workers will have to file the workers' compensation claims to help assure that they receive lost wages and medical expenses for this serious occupational hazard.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, "US Labor Department announces final rule to improve U.S. workers' protection from the dangers of 'respirable silica dust,'" Accessed April 4, 2016

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