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OSHA to increase restrictions on silica dust exposure

People in New Jersey who do rock drilling and stone cutting work may be exposed to a known human lung carcinogen called crystalline silica. The manufacturing and installation of countertops also puts workers at risk for exposure to silica dust particles that are small enough to inhale. Silicosis, the lung disease associated with silica dust, is also a concern for workers who do hydraulic fracturing.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is preparing to tighten the safety standards that were set up to protect workers from exposure to silica dust. Regulations about silica dust have not been updated for the last 45 years, and the new change is expected to be dramatic. In February, OSHA will cut the permissible silica dust exposure limit for an eight-hour workday from 100 micrograms per cubic meter to 50.

The hazards of silica dust have been known for decades. In the 1930s, the Department of Labor voiced concerns about the toll that silicosis was taking on workers. The World Health Organization called silica dust a human carcinogen in 1997, and the U.S. National Toxicology Program's Report on Carcinogens listed silica as a carcinogen in 2000.

A worker who has developed silicosis from working around silica dust may be eligible to file a workers' compensation claim. A lawyer may be able to help a worker in this regard by gathering sufficient evidence to prove that silica dust exposure was the root cause of some of their medical problems. Workers' compensation health care benefits may be available even if the illness developed after they left the job where they were exposed to silica dust.

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