New OSHA silica exposure rules address serious health threat

Construction workers in Minnesota who routinely cut into concrete block products risk exposure to silica dust. This summer, new regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration came into effect. They require employers to make written plans to prevent workers from breathing the hazardous dust. Someone needs to be specifically assigned the task of putting the safety plan into practice. Employers should also offer medical exams to workers whose duties include wearing a respirator more than 30 days in a year. Medical checks could alert a worker to dust exposure before serious sickness develops.

The hazardous dust arises from the silicon dioxide inside concrete products. In addition to the fatal threat of silicosis, breathing the dust could cause a worker to suffer from bronchitis, autoimmune disorders or lung cancer. OSHA recommends that workers use a wet saw to cut silicate materials because the water flow will greatly reduce dust.

Over 2 million construction workers across 600,000 work sites experience exposure to silica dust, according to the safety administration. Well over 800,000 of them work in conditions where silica dust exceeds acceptable levels. The federal agency estimates that silica-related diseases kill as many as 1,500 workers every year.

A person who believes that an employer is not adhering to workplace safety rules could ask an attorney for advice. An attorney could inform a client about how to file a complaint with safety inspectors. The lawyer might take action to protect the person's rights if the employer retaliates after the complaint. If the client suffered a workplace illness or injury, an attorney might assist with the process of reporting the problem and requesting workers' compensation benefits. Alternatively, in a case with significant safety violations, the lawyer might recommend a personal injury lawsuit against the employer.

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