Texas Mutual Workers' Compensation Insurance Company - Work Safe, Texas

Silica:
What’s all the fuss about?

After nearly 15 years and countless conversations with stakeholders representing every conceivable side of the issue, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a new rule on silica exposure. The rule creates two standards. One standard applies to general industry and maritime, and the other standard applies to the construction industry.

If you haven’t been watching the story unfold, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. So let’s take a closer look at silica and why OSHA spent so much of its time and sparse resources addressing it.

What is silica, and why is it dangerous?

Silica is a mineral found in the Earth’s crust. It is also a key component of sand, concrete, stone, mortar and other similar materials.

In its natural state, silica isn’t dangerous. But when it is ground into tiny particles called crystalline silica and we breath it, silica can wreak havoc on our bodies.

Crystalline silica exposure can result in cancer, tuberculosis, autoimmune diseases and a lung disease known as silicosis.

Silicosis has been on OSHA’s radar since the 1930s. In this three-minute video, a man explains how he lost his father to silicosis when he was just eight years old.

Who’s at risk?

OSHA estimates over two million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica. About 1.85 million of them work in the construction industry.

Any job that involves cutting, sawing, drilling, using sand products and crushing concrete, brick, block, rock and stone products increases workers’ silica exposure.

That means the rough necks and tool pushers who make their living in Texas’ oil and gas fields are at risk. So is anyone who works in glass manufacturing, demolition, sand blasting, masonry manufacturing, cement manufacturing and artificial stone countertop fabrication.

Why did we need a new silica rule?

OSHA said the previous silica rule did not adequately protect workers. The old rule’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) was based on research from the 1960s, and it did not reflect recent scientific evidence. Furthermore, the old rule did not consider the emergence of hydraulic fracturing, stone and artificial stone countertop fabrication and other industries that put workers at risk.

What does the new rule do?

Key compliance dates

OSHA staggered the new silica rule compliance dates to give businesses enough time to meet the requirements:

More resources

OSHA estimates the new silica rules will save over 600 lives, prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis and provide net benefits of about $7.7 billion annually.