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New silica rule may reduce workplace injuries on the oil fields

In June 2018, the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration silica rules will become effective for pressure pumpers and exploration and production companies in the oil and gas industry. Until then, employees in the Oklahoma oil fields will remain exposed to respirable crystalline silica in dangerous levels that can cause severe workplace injuries to lungs and kidneys. From that date forward, the allowed exposure limit will be drastically reduced.

The new rule will protect workers who are exposed to the dangers presented by silica dust, which is present at all sites where hydraulic fracturing is done. The masses of fracturing sand that is pumped into the crevices of the earth release those dangerous silica particles that workers inhale to cause life-threatening diseases. The health risks include silicosis, kidney disease, tuberculosis, lung cancer and other diseases that affect the airways of exposed workers.

The new acceptable limit for silica exposure will be approximately half of the current level. However, OSHA encourages employers to reduce current optimal levels by as much as 75 percent. Bringing about the changes can involve careful planning and modifications to current procedures, and for that reason, companies have a year to prepare for the changes.

While the stricter silica rule may prevent new cases of silicosis after the date of the new rule, some Oklahoma oil field workers may already have suffered the workplace injuries from years of exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Although the workers' compensation insurance system covers occupational diseases, proving such an illness to be work-related can be a challenge because there is no specific date on which an injury occurred. This is where the support and guidance of an experienced workers' compensation attorney can be an invaluable asset.

Source:, "Clock Ticking Toward Strict New Workplace Silica Standard", Katie Sallee, Accessed on Sept. 1, 2017

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