It was recently reported that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to significantly lower the amount of silica workers can be exposed to on the job. Reuters Health reported that OSHA expects that the change could save as many as 700 lives per year.
Since 1971, the permissible level of silica exposure has been set at 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter of air, but reportedly OSHA could soon lower the limit to 0.05 mg/m3.
Silica, or powered quartz, is made up of particles so tiny they can enter deep into the lungs. Silica exposure can lead to a deadly condition called silicosis. It is estimated that about 2.2 million American workers are exposed to silica, which can also lead to lung cancer.
Jobs within the construction industry are especially at risk of silica exposure, but other occupations such as sandblasting, dentistry and ceramic or glass manufacturing can also lead to exposure.
At this point, there is no cure or treatment for silicosis, which can result in breathing difficulty. Silicosis can be most severe in people who smoke, which is why experts advise smokers who have been exposed to silica to quit. However, new research has shown that even non-smokers can get silicosis or lung cancer from silica exposure.
To keep workers safe on the job, it is recommended that work areas with silica dust be well ventilated or less hazardous materials be used. Some employers supply their workers with respirators to help minimize silica exposure, but this is not the preferred method, experts say.
OSHA regulations are in place to help keep workers safe on the job and to hold employers accountable when safety is compromised. Hopefully, OSHA decides to go through with these stricter regulations on silica exposure so that many lives can be saved.
Source: Reuters Health, "OSHA plans to slash silica workplace exposure limits," Anne Harding, Jan. 1, 2014