The proposed changes would set the 8-hour time-weighted average to 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air. Occupations or job sites where silica exposure exceeds these limits would need to install systems that would make conditions safer for workers. This could include the use of water-based ventilators to help remove the fine particles of silica from the air.
The new rule would be the first major changes addressing silica exposure since 1971. OSHA expects that these changes will save over 700 lives each year. They also believe that this could prevent another 1,600 cases of silicosis per year after the rule goes into effect.
Silicosis is a disease that develops after prolonged exposure to various amounts of silica. It results when silica particles are inhaled into the lungs, possibly leading to serious lung damage. Symptoms include coughing or shortness of breath, as well as chest pain. In severe cases, it may even lead to the death of the person with the condition.
OSHA plans hearings on the proposed rule in March. Once these hearings are complete, the agency may move forward with these changes. Until that happens, the old regulations are still in place, which may unfortunately be subjecting many workers to potentially unsafe conditions.
If you work in an occupation that puts you in direct contact with silica, you may have questions about the steps that your employer is taking to ensure your safety. Some of the equipment that they are using may not completely reduce the risk of contracting some sort of illness connected with the exposure.
Once you begin to demonstrate symptoms of a silica-related illness, you should speak to an attorney experienced with silica exposure claims for workers. Your attorney will be able to review the facts present, and determine if you have a possible claim. These can be very complicated cases to prove, and you need to be sure that you are working with an attorney that understands the medical and legal issues connected to your situation.