The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes safety standards to protect workers from hazards on the job. While these standards are important to attempt to decrease workplace injuries or illnesses, implementing them can sometimes be difficult for companies. The regulations may be expensive or impractical to put in place, or companies may have trouble understanding the expectations of the agency.
OSHA recently released new regulations for the safer handling of silica dust. Silica dust is generated when workers cut or drill into materials such as brick, mortar, and concrete. Inhaling the dust can cause scar tissue to build up in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. This condition, known as silicosis, can be deadly.
Union Contractors Express Concerns Over Regulations
At a recent meeting with Philadelphia brick and mason contractors, OSHA representatives explained the new regulations, which outline specific techniques for handling silica dust and wearing protective gear. The group of about 50 contractors had serious concerns over the regulations, as they would be difficult to implement on certain sites. For example, OSHA requires that silica dust be vacuumed or treated with water to keep it from becoming airborne, but a worker suspended on a crane or in a harness would not be able to accomplish this.
The contractors also felt that the new rules were vague. Most of the changes apply only to workers engaged in a covered task and not to other workers in the vicinity, but the agency did not provide an exact definition for “in the vicinity.” Additionally, workers who may be exposed to silica dust must wear a respirator, which can only be worn for 30 days out of the year, and workers must be medically certified in order to continue working. Many workers in the industry are employed by multiple contractors, however, and it was unclear whether they would need to be certified for each new job they take on.
New Regulations Raise Questions
OSHA representatives took note of the contractors’ concerns and reassured the group that as long as they showed a concerted effort to follow the regulations as best they could, they would not be severely penalized. OSHA recommended that job sites have a competent person on hand to assess whether air monitoring is necessary if safety regulations could not be fully met. This raised additional questions of who would be considered a competent person and how close sites must be to meeting the regulations to avoid penalization.
Silicosis is relatively rare, resulting in about 100 fatalities per year, but the construction industry is disproportionately affected by the risk. Pennsylvania had the highest number of silicosis-related deaths from 1968 to 2005, with 349 people dying from the disease during this time. There has been a recent increase in silicosis deaths among younger workers, highlighting the need for more stringent safety regulations. Companies must do everything in their power to protect workers from this hazard, but sometimes their efforts fall short.
Philadelphia Chemical Exposure Lawyers at Shein Law Advocate for Those Affected by Silica Dust Exposure
If you or a loved one has suffered from silicosis, call the Philadelphia chemical exposure lawyers at Shein Law. Our knowledgeable, experienced legal team will work tirelessly to determine who is at fault for your silica dust exposure and hold them financially accountable. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call us today at 1-877-SHEINLAW (743-4652) or contact us online to discuss your case with a dedicated member of our legal team.