In America, asbestos litigation has become a huge problem for both businesses and insurance carriers. According to a study released in May 2005 by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice, more than 730,000 people filed claims for asbestos-related injuries from the early 1970s through 2002.
The study also stated that the number of asbestos claims increased dramatically through the 1990s and into 2002 because of suits filed by people who are claiming non-cancerous injuries. These cases account for 90 percent of all new claims, adding to the large numbers of asbestos litigation brought by the cancer-stricken.
In the midst of this there is a new threat that promises to be as big a player in the litigation arena as asbestos has been. That threat is silica.
Silica is a major component of sand, rock and mineral ores. Overexposure to dust containing microscopic particles of crystalline silica can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs. The scar tissue reduces the ability of the lungs to extract oxygen from the air. This condition is called silicosis, which is disabling, nonreversible and sometimes fatal.
According to A Guide To Working Safely With Silica, published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Each year, more than 250 American workers die with silicosis. More than 1 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica. There is no cure for the disease, but it is 100 percent preventable if employers, workers and health professionals work together to reduce exposures.”
Working in a dusty area increases the possibility of your employees becoming exposed to silica as does working in certain occupations such as construction, mining, foundry work, glass manufacturing and stone cutting. Despite the occupation, following some basic procedures can reduce silica exposure:
- Be sure that employees use the engineering controls you have installed to reduce silica dust levels, and make sure they are properly maintained. Employees should report any malfunction immediately.
- Minimize dust by following good work practices, such as removing dust with a water hose or a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate filter rather than blowing it clean with compressed air. Wet sweeping is preferable to dry sweeping.
- Use less hazardous materials than crystalline silica for abrasive blasting.
- To reduce exposures below permissible levels, insist that employees wear and correctly use approved particulate respirators when engineering controls alone are not adequate.
- Remind employees that facial hair interferes with the respirator seal to the face, making most respirators ineffective.
- If you must sandblast, use type CE positive pressure abrasive blasting respirators.
- Participate in air monitoring, medical surveillance, and training programs.
As important as it is to monitor silica exposure on the jobsite, it is just as important to monitor your employees to see if they are practicing good silica hygiene before, during and when they leave work. Train them to change into washable work clothes on site. If possible, provide them with a shower so that they can wash and change into clean clothing before leaving. Insist that they avoid eating, drinking, or using tobacco products in work areas where there is dust or other toxic materials. Most importantly, they should wash their hands and face before eating or drinking.
To further help you prevent silica exposure; OSHA has developed The Silica eTool. It includes current information that will assist businesses owners in identifying potential silica hazards by choosing correct sampling and analytical techniques, comparing monitoring results with acceptable exposure limits, and selecting appropriate control options. To download it, log on to http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/silica/index.html.