Airborne silica is a danger to unprotected workers in the fracking industry. Government agencies have teamed up to alert employers and employees to the dangers and recommend protective measures.
Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth's crust and is a major component of the sand, clay, and stone materials used to make products such as concrete, brick, and glass. Respirable crystalline silica is the portion that can be inhaled in the lungs, causing silicosis.
Silicosis can cause inflammation and scarring of the lungs. It has been linked to lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease.
Field studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found workers exposed to unhealthy levels of silica at various hydraulic fracturing sites. NIOSH and OSHA have issued a hazard alert and suggest employers determine worker exposure levels, control exposures by improving engineering controls, make equipment changes where necessary, and provide respiratory protection in some cases.
Monitoring the air to determine worker exposures to silica involves collecting respirable dust samples. Employers can control the dust exposures by making practice and procedural changes such as:
- Mandating the capping of unused fill ports, such as cam lock caps, on sand movers.
- Limiting the number of workers and the time they must spend in areas where dust and silica levels may be elevated.
- Applying fresh water to roads and around the well site to reduce the dust.
Equipment changes that may be necessary include enclosing points where dust is released, using enclosed cabs or booths, and using local exhaust ventilation.
Respiratory protection may be needed if engineering and work practice controls are insufficient. Employers providing respirators must have a respiratory protection program that meets OSHA requirements.
The agencies also recommend employers provide training and information to workers about the hazards of silica and other chemicals. They should prepare and implement a written hazard communication program and provide workers access to safety data sheets.
Finally, medical monitoring is another option to consider. That involves medical exams that focus on the respiratory system, as well as chest X-rays.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
August 6, 2012
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