Silica dust was highlighted as a hazard to workers’ lungs long before the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. To put it into perspective, silica dust was noted as a workplace hazard when America was clawing its way out of the Great Depression, Polio was a grave concern, smoking wasn’t considered dangerous, and ‘Talkies’ were a new concept.
In 1936, the US Division of Labor Standards completed a one-year study on the effects of silica dust: how workers are exposed, how much danger silica dust poses, and how to minimize the risk on the job. To help employers and employees to protect themselves, they released the following 1938 video to raise awareness.
Nearly 80 Years Later
There could be many reasons behind the failure to minimize illnesses and deaths resulting from silicosis, which kills hundreds each year and sickens thousands more.
This is why in 2013, OSHA introduced a proposed rule aimed to minimize—if not eradicate—future cases of silicosis stemming from unsafe practices or improper protections.
The rule, which includes provisions for measuring exposure, limits to access where exposure is high, effective measures for reducing exposures, providing medical exams to workers with high silica exposures, and training for workers about silica-related hazards and how to limit exposure.
Expected to affect 2.2 million workers, 1.85 million of them in the construction industry, the proposed rule is estimated to provide average net benefits of about $2.8 to $4.7 billion annually over the next 60 years, costing the average workplace just $1,242 annually. For more an overview of the rule, view the fact sheet on crystalline silica from OSHA
Your Company Can Reduce Exposure before The Standard Passes
At Optimum Safety Management, we support the idea of going above and beyond to help an employer and its safety team to recognize the true Return on Safety. This means productivity and profitability, both of which stem from safety.
So yes, we are happy to see that OSHA is proposing that more be done to protect workers from exposure to silica dust, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t ensure safety by taking measures that will not only be compliant when the proposals take hold, but also protect your workers today.
With the right training, safety program, and insight, your company can reduce unprotected employee exposure to, minimize the damage of, and prevent incidents in which silicosis causes long-term damage to your reputation and workforce.