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OSHA, NIOSH warning employers about dangers of silica exposure in fracking industry

Over the last decade, one of the more controversial environmental issues throughout much of the country has been fracking. For those unfamiliar with fracking, it is essentially a process whereby energy companies break up rock formations via high-pressure injections of water and other chemicals to free oil and gases deposits.

Interestingly, fracking has become more of an issue here following revelations earlier this year by the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources -- a division of the California Department of Conservation -- that fracking has actually been going on in the state for several decades. (The DOGGR is currently in the process of drafting regulations on fracking.)

Critics of the practice have long argued that it can contaminate underground aquifers and possibly have other dramatic environmental consequences.

In more recent developments, both the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a hazard alert warning that workers at fracking sites may be exposed to potentially unhealthy levels of airborne silica.

According to the agencies, crystalline silica is a very common mineral found in the earth's crust and is commonly found in the stone, clay and other materials used to manufacture brick, glass and concrete. However, inhalation of silica can cause a serious and potentially deadly condition known as silicosis.

For those unfamiliar with silicosis, it can result in the inflammation/scarring of the lungs and has been linked to such debilitating conditions as tuberculosis, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In light of this potential danger, both NIOSH and OSHA are recommending that companies engaged in fracking measure worker exposure to breathable silica and, if necessary, implement the necessary protective measures.

These protective measures may include:

  • Limiting the number of workers and the time they must spend in areas with elevated silica levels
  • Spraying fresh water on roads and other areas around the site to minimize silica dust
  • Installing exhaust ventilation, enclosed booths or other devices to collect silica dust
  • Providing OSHA-complaint respiratory protection

The agencies also recommend that that employers engaged in fracking consider implementing a safety training program to inform/warn employees about the dangers of silicosis and providing medical monitoring.

Stay tuned for more our workers' compensation defense blog ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal or medical advice.

Sources:

Risk & Insurance, "Workers in hydraulic fracturing warned of silica exposure," August 6, 2012

NBC 4 - Los Angeles, "Fracking" in California, a new target of protest," Melissa Pamer, John Cadiz Klemack, and Angie Crouch, June 13, 2012

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