After over four decades of warning, new workplace limits for lung-damaging and omnipresent substance, silica, are going to take effect. Silica, which is found in rock and sand, poses a hazard when it is crushed into a fine dust and inhaled – which is a major problem on construction sites as well as an assortment of other work environments. This substance can trigger silicosis, a lung-scarring condition that kills by suffocation, in addition to lung cancer and kidney disease.
Last week, OSHA released a new standard – which replaces a rule that was set in 1971. It now reduces the allowable exposure limit to silica to 50 micro-grams per cubic meter of air, which is five times less than the current limit for construction sectors. The new rule establishes two standards – one for general industry and maritime and one for the construction industry. Under the new standards, an estimated 2.3 million employees who work in fields like construction, brick manufacturing, and fracturing will be protected. In fact, most employers will be able to meet compliance by using equipment found at local hardware stores.
Many groups that argued against the change claim the new rule is a “job-killer” that will cost much more than OSHA anticipates, however, worker-safety advocates have disputed this by saying that silica is a worker-killer and that the standard is long overdue. OSHA estimates that the new rule will prevent about 640 deaths per year and more than 900 new cases of silicosis.
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