On Aug. 23, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration finally announced its proposal to reduce the silica dust in Pennsylvania factories. The proposed rule would reduce the permissible exposure limit of respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic centimeter of air, down from 100 for standard industry and about 250 for construction and shipyards. If these new regulations are adopted, it will be the first time they have changed since 1971.
One of the reasons unions are pressuring the government to make regulations more stringent is prevalence of occupational illness hazards related to silica dust. Workers who are exposed to silica dust are at risk for silicosis and lung cancer, even at levels lower than 100 micrograms per cubic centimeter of air, according to peer-reviewed risk assessments. It is estimated by OSHA that the new rules would save 700 lives a year and reduce the number of cases of silicosis by 1,600 per year.
In addition to lowering the allowable levels of breathable crystalline silica in the air, the new regulations include provisions for measuring silica exposure and methods for reducing that exposure. It would also seek to provide workers with high exposures medical exams and training for workers about the dangers of being around silica. Based on lives saved and illnesses avoided, OSHA calculates that the new standards would provide between $2.8 billion and $4.7 billion a year in benefits.
Employers are obligated to follow state and federal regulations for ensuring their workers' safety. If someone has been harmed or has developed a medical condition due to their employer's negligence, a lawyer could assist them in pursuing compensation and exercising their legal rights.
Source: Bloomberg, "OSHA Announces Proposed Silica Rule, Lowering PEL, Ending Lengthy OMB Review", Stephen Lee and Robert Iafolla, September 05, 2013