redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Long-anticipated rules that would limit exposure to silica dust in the workplace were proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Friday.
According to Neela Banerjee of the Los Angeles Times, the new rules would cut exposure to the tiny particles in half. The proposal was developed “amid mounting evidence that current standards do not protect workers from increased risk of lung cancer and silicosis, a progressive, incurable disease,” she added.
Current silica dust standards for workers in the shipbuilding, railroad and construction industries were established more than four decades ago, Banerjee said. The new standards would establish a legal limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air for workplace silica dust concentrations for all industries, over an eight-hour day.
Previously, separate rules limited construction sector (250 micrograms) and the general and maritime industry (100 micrograms). However, in light of a recent domestic oil and gas boom due largely to the practice of hydraulic fracturing, a 2012 federal study conducted last year demonstrated that an increasing number of workers in the energy sector were increasingly at risk of being exposed to respirable silica dust.
OSHA estimates that the new regulations could save as many as 700 lives each year, while also preventing up to 1,600 cases of silicosis annually, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Melanie Trottman. Dr. David Michaels, an assistant secretary in the Labor Department, told Trottman that the rule “uses common sense measures that will protect workers’ lives and lungs – like keeping the material wet so dust doesn’t become airborne.”
Nonetheless, it has already drawn somewhat of a backlash from industrial groups arguing that the changes are unnecessary. Amanda Wood, director of labor and employment policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, told the Wall Street Journal that companies had already taken steps to contain the particles, while the American Foundry Society claims that the proposal would cost the metalcasting industry nearly $1.5 billion annually.
Dr. Michaels also told Steve Greenhouse of the New York Times that the new regulations, which come after a delay of more than two years, would affect over 530,000 businesses – 90 percent of them in the construction industry. He added that the rules would cost industry an average of $1,242 per company (a total of $640 million) to comply, but that the benefits resulting from the OSHA proposal would exceed $4 billion.
“Crystalline silica – tiny particles no more than one-hundredth the size of grains of sand – is created during work with stone, concrete, brick or mortar,” Greenhouse explained. “It can occur during sawing, grinding and drilling and is common in glass manufacturing and sand blasting. One government study found that many workers in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, were exposed to 10 times the permissible level of silica.”