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Challenges to OSHA’s New Silica Rule

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) new silica rule is poised to place stricter limits on industries like construction, steel manufacturing, and maritime trades. Specifically, the proposed permissible exposure limit will be lowered by 50%; employees may not be exposed to more than 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) of air over an average eight-hour shift.

However, staying underneath these requirements is a challenge for these industries. The new rule will require extensive equipment demands and greater monitoring requirements, and expensive penalties will be issued against any companies that fail to comply.

Silica and Its Effect on Workers in High-Risk Industries

Silica is a mineral commonly found in sand and quartz and can be 100 times smaller than a grain of sand. Overexposure to this substance affects lung health and can be fatal in extreme cases. Complications from silica aspiration are rare, except in cases involving extensive long-term exposure. There were many fatal incidents before the 1970s, though exposure rates and complications have dramatically decreased since stricter monitoring methods and safety requirements were put in place. According to the OSHA, however, there is more work to be done.

OSHA is following up on a comprehensive series of tests, studies, reports, and data. It will release new standards for monitoring worker exposure to silica. If these requirements are adopted, enterprises must make the following adjustments:

  • Introduce new performance assessments and results to track employee exposure to silica. This includes air sampling throughout high-risk areas, closely monitoring workers and ensuring that they understand maintenance and safety practices, and strictly enforcing these rules.
  • New controls to keep air contamination below minimum levels and better tracking systems to guarantee employees are not exposed to silica for more than eight hours.
  • Modified daily practices. Enterprises will have to introduce new monitoring equipment to ensure workers are not overexposed to this mineral. This will include a detailed exposure control plan.
  • Workplace modifications. In addition to the above measures, businesses will have to clearly mark and restrict access to dangerous areas and provide comprehensive employee training. This must cover silica inhalation, how to use the available equipment (such as respirators), and the OSHA’s new requirements for operating in high-risk industries.
  • Medical follow-ups. Any personnel who have spent a significant time working in an exposed are will be scheduled for a medical exam. These visits must be recorded and reported to avoid violating the OSHA’s minimum standards of care.

Challenges to Rule

Though tighter measures seem like a universally good idea, there is some opposition to the proposed changes. Some fear the requirements are too great and that companies can’t feasibly (on an economic and practical scale) meet these standards. Plus, given the relatively low risk of complications and the extensive strides made in healthcare since the 1970s, scheduling checkups, providing equipment, and integrating new policy changes is superfluous and too expensive to maintain.

Despite these concerns, some governing bodies are wondering if the proposed minimum is too high. By the time the law is settled, the microgram cap may be set far lower. Businesses and legislatures continue to debate this proposal, and the final ruling is pending as these petitions and more protests come into play.

What Does This Mean for Your Enterprise?

Some will continue to contest the new law, but employees and enterprises must meet these new demands. Failing to do so can result in $5,000 fines per violation and a $70,000 fine for each willful violation.

If your enterprise faces penalties, there will be an extensive evaluation of your facility and a lengthy legal process, which could uncover additional problems. For employees, working for a company that fails to take these safety measures into account can be incredibly dangerous. If you have been injured due to unsafe working conditions regarding silica, contact our Orange County work injury lawyers today and see how we can protect your rights.