Concerns from the BC construction industry have led the province to propose a rule to better identify and control worker exposure to the hazards. The rule has been made available in the U.S. by OSHA.
"In BC workplaces, there is more exposure to silica than there is to asbestos or lead," according to the proposed rule. While employer and worker responsibilities with respect to asbestos and lead are included in existing rules, no such provisions exist for silica.
Silica is the second most common mineral on earth and consists of silicon and oxygen atoms and makes up nearly all of what is called sand and rock. Silica dust is absorbed through the lungs and restricts a person's ability to breathe. Exposure typically occurs by inhaling dust containing respirable crystalline silica when workers are grinding stone or concrete, cutting bricks or tiles, hauling gravel and sweeping up the remains.
Lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and airways diseases can also result. Researchers say exposure may also be related to the development of autoimmune disorders, chronic renal diseases, and other ailments.
Those exposed to the risks are from a variety of industries and occupations, including coal mining and milling, diatomaceous earth mining and plant operations, granite quarrying and processing, slate works, foundry operations, steel fabrication, silica flour production, potteries, ceramic brick and tile manufacture, stonemasonry, and construction work involving cutting or breaking stone, concrete or brick, abrasive blasting and tunneling.
"It is believed that silica exposure in BC workplaces are underreported, particularly the cancers, and misdiagnosed," the proposed rule states. "This is due to the difficulty in relating some cancers to a particular cause and to the presence of contributing factors (e.g., smoking in the construction industry). In addition, it is believed that many physicians do not take into account a patient's occupational history or the relationship to early work exposures may be obscure when they treat a cancer patient."
By Nancy Grover
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
September 16, 2013
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