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Final silica rule may limit cases of permanent impairment

When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's final ruling on respirable crystalline silica becomes effective later this year, it will save more than 600 lives nationwide per year, says the agency. Furthermore, it is estimated that the improved safety requirements will prevent over 900 healthy workers each year from contracting silicosis. In Ohio and elsewhere, it is a debilitating occupational disease that can cause permanent impairment.

Respirable crystalline silica is present in sand, so any activities that involve sand or products made from it can cause exposure. This includes hydraulic fracturing, foundry work, glass manufacturing and brick making. Further exposure follows for any employees who then work with those products. As many as two million construction laborers work with silica-containing products every year when they grind, crush and drill stone, bricks and concrete on a daily basis.

The new regulations will lower the permissible exposure limit over a work shift of eight hours to 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air. Employers will have to use ventilation, water and other controls to lessen exposure, and if those methods are ineffective, they must provide workers with appropriate respiration equipment. Access to areas with high levels of silica must be limited, and regular medical evaluations and examinations must be carried out to monitor the health of employees.

Although these precautions may prove to prevent new cases of silicosis, scores of workers from all industries who have been exposed for many years are suffering the consequences. Any Ohio employees -- or former employees -- of companies that exposed them to respirable crystalline silica that caused permanent impairment are entitled to seek financial assistance through the workers' compensation program for the state. Proving an illness to be work-related can be challenging, particularly for those who are no longer employed with the company at which exposure occurred. Seeking the help of an experienced workers' compensation attorney may prove invaluable.

Source: totallandscapecare.com, "OSHA's ruling on respirable crystalline silica exposure", Beth Hyatt, Aug. 17, 2017

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