Labor Department Signficantly Reduces Allowable Levels of Silica Dust in Work Sites
On March 24, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor released new rules significantly reducing the allowance of workplace exposure to silica. Silica is a potentially harmful mineral found in materials commonly located in construction and hydraulic fracking sites. The mineral is a component of sand and stone and can be found in concrete, brick, building blocks, and mortar. Research has shown that inhalation of the mineral can cause silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease. The new rule cites that the permitted exposure limit (PEL) is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour period, down from 250 micrograms in the construction industry. In other industries, which had a 100-microgram standard, the permissible level will also be reduced to 50 micrograms. “With the new rules, employers will be required to keep records of employee exposure to silica, and workers with high exposure levels will need to submit to medical examinations every three years,” said Sheila Kerwin, a product liability and OSHA attorney with Nilan Johnson Lewis. The rules were first proposed in 2013 and went through a two years of review and public comment. The new standards will take effect on June 23, 2016. The construction industry has until June 23, 2017, to come into compliance and other industries have until June 23, 2018. Lisa Schmid, OSHA and employment attorney at NJL, advises employers to start figuring out how to come into compliance now: “This will take an analysis of current practices, development of solutions, training, and possibly purchasing of new equipment.”
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